Something strange happened last night, but Amanda can’t remember what it was. She’s terribly hung over and she knows that she fought with her boyfriend, but that doesn’t explain why her roommate isn’t the person she remembers or why she can’t see out the window. Why does she feel like something is watching her and why does the university campus not look like it did yesterday? And, so starts The History Major.
Discovering what is going on is part of the fun of this short story, so I’d suggest stopping here if you have any intention of reading this yourself. Thank you to NetGalley for a free copy of this short story for review purposes. ***Please do not read beyond this point to avoid spoilers!! Warning… Warning!!***
For those that either have read it or are not going to read it… let’s discuss!
So, I feel as if this story, like life some would say, is all about consciousness. How aware are you of your internal worlds? Does our history define us or do we decide what has meaning? Is there such thing as the collective unconscious? And, the biggest question of all, what happens to consciousness after death?
The author begins with Amanda feeling paranoid and it sets the stage for the whole thing: “Her skin prickled again; she felt the sensation of being watched. Amanda turned around and walked backward, looking across the vast estate for the intrusive eyes. The wind ruffled the leaves. Amanda paused, searching for the discordant thing that pulled at her, but there was nothing out of place. She searched but couldn’t find the cause of her uneasiness.” loc 206, ebook. There’s a general feeling of creepiness that never goes away. I didn’t really like that part of The History Major but readers of horror might really love it. Self discovery and self knowledge shouldn’t be scary. The various dream books that I’ve read say that the way to end nightmares is to stop running and face the monster. I feel like Amanda spends far too much time running, but then, I suppose, it wouldn’t make a very good story if she didn’t, would it? Amanda discovers monster, faces monster, and is ok after all.
Amanda is a sympathetic character. I think we’ve all been there: the day after having one too many and waking up to an “uh oh” feeling. She, fairly bravely, faces the first day of college even though she knows something is not right. She even takes her messed up schedule to the secretaries and tries to get them to change her classes. But, I didn’t like how reliant she is on her boyfriend. Given her childhood history (warning, if you are triggered by childhood molestation do not read this book), I can see how she turned out that way, but I wanted her to take the reigns of her life and go for it- not fret about if walking down the sidewalk with another man will make her boyfriend jealous.
I also did not like Death being personified as a monster or the fate of Nick. I don’t believe that Death is evil or comes at us with choking hands. I prefer to view it as a doorway to another reality. As for the “hell” vision for Nick, I think that hell is a state of mind and something that we create on earth, but, this is just my opinion.
“People are trapped in history, and history is trapped in them.” Loc 611, ebook. I thought that The History Major did a good job of using historical figures to help Amanda remember her present circumstances, but I thought that the “history” itself was given too much credit. For example, Amanda could have been watching the tv and been triggered into remembering her past by what came on the screen. Or, she could have taken an art class and been triggered by the works of art in the classroom… there are many topics that could have led to her epiphany.
So, that was my beef with this book: the frightening aspect of searching the subconscious mind, the co-dependent heroine, the nasty personification of Death and the hellish afterlife, and the reliance on historical figures who, when you consider it more closely, have very little to do with what actually happened to Amanda. But, even saying all those things, I read this short story in one sitting and was really interested to see where the author was taking it. Pick up The History Major if you’re interested in a short, metaphysical read. If you’re looking for more in-depth books about any of the history that appears in this story try: Blood & Beauty: the Borgias by Sarah Dunant or Joan of Arc: a History by Helen Castor.
Thanks for reading!