Michael Phillip Cash’s paranormal thriller, The History Major, combines dark fantasy, history, and emotional drama to explore the relationship between past experiences and the present. The novella takes the reader on a mind-bending trip through time and the main character’s psyche to show how one can learn from what has happened.
The story is told from the perspective of Amanda Greene, an emotionally damaged college freshman on the brink of a mental breakdown. After a night of heavy drinking, Amanda wakes up surrounded by a world she doesn’t recognize; a dorm room that’s just slightly unfamiliar, subtle changes in the campus, and a history class on her course list that she never enrolled in. Chalking the sudden confusion up to her hangover, Amanda decides to work her course schedule out with campus administration. She finds only more frustration as she is told to attend the history course or face punishment.
The history course presents the backdrop for the growth of Amanda’s mental breakdown. She doesn’t recognize any of the students and the teacher is dressed like Aristotle. The coursework is advanced and the instructor’s words send Amanda into a trance. It is with this setting that Cash builds a sense of fantasy into the story. The lecture sends Amanda into another world. It is a world where she experiences the lives of Lucreiza Borgia and Joan of Arc and begins to uncover how their experiences parallel her own.
Cash also does an excellent job of building suspense. The details about how Amanda’s world has changed are so subtle that they feel real. It makes complete sense that after a night of drinking one can feel disoriented with their surroundings. As the mystery of her situation develops, the strangeness of the story increases until it peaks at the end with a surprising twist.
The story has two downsides, however. One involves the overall resolution of the story. The reader is taken on an interesting trip through Amanda’s background and feels involved in picking up the clues. Using fantasy as the driving literary device to create the mystery, however, allows for more imagination than is really needed. As Amanda comes to grips that the actual Aristotle is teaching the class the reader has to begin questioning the suspense as merely a dream sequence that could be unfulfilling. The second downside is simple. Amanda’s emotional responses to her situation are stiff and unnatural. While she expresses panic, confusion, and uncertainty, it is the timing and delivery of these emotions that makes her hard to connect with.
Overall, The History Major is a quick and mostly satisfying thriller. The concept is original and blends genres well, but the conclusion and characterization leaves the reader wanting more.
After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by Michael Phillip Cash. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.