3 out of 5
As a writer, one of the most frustrating responses you can get from someone is a lack of response. Yes, you can dig in and tell yourself that the lack, in itself, is meaningful – and sure, it is – but it’s maddeningly damning. I made you feel nothing. I don’t want you to shit on the work, per se, but inciting some negativity allows you to pluck out some gleanings, at least, about what trigger points exist in your work, and whether or not you want to twist those to embellish whatever effect you’ve had. When there’s nothing, there’s nothing. No place to start. And so in writing reviews, I try my best to reach for some criticism, even when it’s not readily burbled in my brain by the work, because when your whole output is intended to give an opinion on something, not having one is maybe more failure than the creator’s.
And so maybe I’ve failed with ‘Oral History.’ But I also think the format stood in the way for me, as its concluding revelations finally got me invested in the concept, and then had me wondering if I would have been more impacted by having the same fleshed out as a full book, or presented in a different medium. ‘History’ outlines the short blip of fame (and lasting, for a certain audience, notoriety) of female boxer Holly Hendrix, as she’s taken under the wing of promoter Allan Duvall and pitted against a male opponent to fast-track her into the spotlight. For a story calling out the battle of the sexes, something I did appreciate about Schaefer’s structure is that he doesn’t outright spam the sexism angle; through a rotating cast of characters we get it, and the more realistic balance of people who cared about Holly in their own way makes the more subtle stings at gender more effective, ultimately resulting in the graceful fade-out of the ending. However, the entire short is narrated as interview snippets with the people in Holly’s life at the time, as told to The Observer’s Michael Rosenberg (as per the intro), and while I get that this makes it a mock up of sports documentaries, it was also a very cold barrier to entry for me, preventing investment and giving me that unfortunate lack of a response. Holly’s boxing history is smoothly doled out in the quotes, but some bridging narrative could have been used to set the stage more, perhaps, even making those mentioned subtleties that tad more, er, punchy.
The lame reaction I can offer is that I was not bored, and I did not find the story