Short fiction review: “86, 87, 88, 89” by Genevieve Valentine

Part of being an effective writer is learning how to be a good critic. This will be an ongoing series of posts that will review pieces of short fiction in order to both highlight other writers and help me think critically about the things that I read.

The first review is the short story “86, 87, 88, 89” by Genevieve Valentine. Her story appeared in Clarksworld Magazine and can be found here  You can also visit her website at

When a city takes action against its own, the ones that are left end up picking up the pieces.

Genevieve Valentine’s short story “86,87,88,89” looks at domestic terrorism through the eyes of those who have to live with the consequences. When terrorists blow up the American Museum of Natural History, the result were raids by the government that left huge swaths of the city in ruins.

The story followed one of many archivists hired by Homeland Security to collect evidence following the raids. The archivist is unnamed, but clearly a New Yorker. Through her, the reader sees a government seeking to justify its war on terrorism.

“When you applied to Homeland Security, they asked a lot of questions about how many questions you asked.”

— Unnamed

The use of secondary documents like reports and email correspondents were central to the story. The documents revealed a government that was obsessed with cataloguing seditious material. This was particularly effective when put up against the unnamed archivist’s narrative.

The archivist believed that the government was doing right at first. That she was doing her part to rid the city of terrorism, but her perspective changed after weeks of picking through through the wreckage and dead bodies.

Seeing her perspective shift was the power in this story.

The archivist was forced to confront the narrative that government needed to find and eradicate terrorism at all costs. Even if that meant turning the guns on its own citizens. Her partner Jesse pointed out the government spies amongst the archivists. They were there to ensure that none were sympathizers.

The most powerful scene involved another archivist named named Kepler who followed the rules and turned in turned in seditious materials to Homeland Security. She watched as Kepler was whisked away for interrogation.

“It would have been someone, eventually. The city needs examples.” — Jesse

What was left at the end was a sense of resignation. That raids could never be undone and whatever sliver of truth the archivist saw on the job would never come to light.