When Hyde fully opens up the valves, the book really starts to flow, in particular in lengthy reflections on two terrible episodes in American history: the story of Charles E. Moore, a nineteen-year-old tortured and killed along with his friend Henry Hezekiah Dee, also nineteen, by the Ku Klux Klan in 1964; and the Sand Creek massacre of 1864, when Colonel John Chivington and the Colorado Cavalry attacked a Cheyenne and Arapaho settlement, murdering men, women and children. Hyde uses these episodes as test cases for his ideas about the redemptive potential of forgetting – and to his great credit, when he puts them to the test, his ideas are shown to be pretty flimsy.
The arts of forgetting, as Lewis Hyde reminds us in this wonderfully inventive book, have at least as venerable a history as the more familiar arts of memory... [Hyde's] style and tone have little resonance with the enigmatic, melancholy and allusive signatures of those European masters. For the likes of Adorno and Blanchot, the exercise of imaginative freedom entails a liberation from the strictures of established forms and received meanings; difficulty is a matter of political and philosophical resistance... A Primer isn’t without its lapses; some of the childhood stories tend a little towards mawkishness, and while the sequence of entries recounting Charles Moore’s journey towards the forgiveness of the Klansmen who murdered his brother tells a remarkable and moving story, its relatively long form sits uneasily inside the book’s aphoristic structure. But when a consignment of gifts is as bountiful and various as this, even the lesser ones add texture and colour.