Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lost in the City

I haven't read too many short stories, aside from the occasional New Yorker selection, and I have never before picked up a collection to read. I bought Lost in the City simply because Edward P. Jones, Pulitzer winner for his outstanding The Known World, hasn't written any other novels. I ended up having to read it at home rather than on the train, because reading more than one tale in a sitting didn't give the stories the focus they demanded. Every story deserves to be individually digested and thought about.

Lost in the City is comprised of 14 stories, ranging in quality from good to excellent. Together they illustrate the often ordinary, sometimes extraordinary, times in the lives of African Americans in Washington, DC. These characters are each striving to maintain a sense of hope and community in their fractured existences.

The best story in the book, perhaps the best modern story I have read, is "The Store." This tale follows an irresponsible young man who, through a job in a bodega over the course of several years, learns responsibility, learns the value of people, and gains an understanding of his place in the world. It is so poignant in its detail, so emotionally insightful, it earns Jones a place among the best contemporary storytellers.

The last tale in the book, "Marie," is another highlight. It follows an elderly woman who worries that her Social Security payments are in danger, particularly after she slaps a condescending receptionist in the office. A knock at her door leads to a chance meeting with a Howard student who then records her telling her own life story. It is powerful and emotional, and the fitting end to this wonderful book.

Lost in the City is enjoyable for short story connoisseurs, as well as for the uninitiated. And if you haven't read The Known World, you should check it out as well.

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