Pulitzer-and-numerous-other-literary-prize winner Edward P. Jones’ “Lost in the City” was one of the books that had been chilling on my bookcase for a while before I cracked it open, and I’m glad I had the opportunity to grow a bit before digging into it. I got the first nudge from Junot Diaz at the National Book Festival, when he listed Jones as one of his influences. I’d read “The Known World” back when it came out, but I don’t think I’d developed the teeth necessary to really chew on and digest that book; as a result “All Aunt Hagar’s Children” and “Lost in the City” languished in unread-book-land for years. It was totally worth it, though, because now that I live in the DC metro area the stories resonated with more depth for me. Books be knowing, y’all.
Synopsis: It’s a book of short stories, and it’s easy to see where Junot Diaz got his inspiration for “Drown” and “This Is How You Lose Her” – Lost’s characters are connected to characters in All Aunt Hagar’s children, and are sometimes connected with stories in the same collection as well. Jones skillfully examines mid-century DC when it was still a ‘chocolate city’. The streets, locations, and descriptions of people are spot on. He captures the voice of old-school black DC in a quiet, unassuming, non-judgmental way. He’s just telling it how it is. I appreciate Jones’ narrative straightforwardness – Jones builds stories bit by bit, each piece appearing to just be matter of fact, and before you know it you’re at the end, pondering the bigger issues the story has quietly laid out. It’s great when good storytelling sneaks up on you.
Favorite characters: Marie, an elderly woman who fends off a potential thief with her homemade serrated shank; Joyce, who acts like it’s all good that her son buys her a house using dope money and fakes like she can have kids with her man even though her tubes are tied; a store-keep who watches the rise and fall of a neighborhood corner store from his perch behind the counter.
Read this if you: like DC, want to understand what the city was like for black folks before 2000, like Toni Morrison, like books with depth. Also, I was super pumped that my edition, published by Amistad, had “A Rich Man,” which I posted here as required cuffing reading not too long ago, included as a bonus to introduce readers to All Aunt Hagar’s Children. Gotta read that next!