In Bunk, Kevin Young pursues a timely examination of the hoax in American culture. He characterizes the hoax—a phenomenon idolized by literary icons such as Edgar Allen Poe and Herman Melville and popularized by P.T. Barnum—as distinctly American, birthed by nation building and the urge to create a shared mythology. With wry humor, Young analyzes moments when folks got the wool pulled over their eyes without protest, building to an argument that makes this book unique: the theory that effective hoaxes, the ones that take hold in the public imagination and proliferate, are rooted in racial stereotypes, exoticism, and societal divisions, exploiting them for fame and fortune.

Young marks the early era of the United States as the Age of Imposture, but transitions to what he describes as our current Age of Euphemism, where the acts of misspeaking and misrepresenting culminate in a kind of willful forgetting, and an assertion that truth is, in fact, irrelevant. With terms like “fake news” and “alternative facts,” our current climate is the ultimate aggregation of the hoaxes that Young documents. The purpose of Bunk seems to be to remind us that, at this point, we have two choices—accept the world we’ve built or begin to exercise truth again, slowly, relearning this skill before its importance is wholly forgotten.

Graywolf Press.

—Review by Rome Morgan