Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Lost in the City (Stories) - Edward P. Jones

Summary: The nation's capital that serves as the setting for the stories in Edward P. Jones's prizewinning collection, Lost in the City, lies far from the city of historic monuments and national politicians.  Jones takes the reader beyond that world into the lives of African American men and women who work against the constant threat of loss to maintain a sense of hope.  From "The Girl Who Raised Pigeons" to the well-to-do career woman awakened in the night by a phone call that will take her on a journey back to the past, the characters in these stories forge bonds of community as they struggle against the limits of their city to stave off the loss of family, friends, memories, and ultimately, themselves.  

Critically acclaimed upon publication, Lost in the City heralds Jones as a new talent, a writer whose unaffected style is not only evocative and forceful but also filled with insight and poignancy.  (Summary from back of book - Image from

My Review:  Lost in the City is a collection of short stories by Edward P. Jones, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World.  The main characters in these stories are African American men and women who reside in some of the the less-polished neighborhoods of Washington D.C.  Each story offers a unique perspective and represents one life among many. 

The most valuable aspect of this book (for me) was the perspective I gained while reading.  While these short stories are categorized as fiction, I always try to remember that they are likely non-fiction to someone.   They are not exclusively about racism, but there is a subtle undercurrent that weaves throughout the book -- a comment here, a situation there -- that offers an illuminating perspective on what it might be like to grow up Black in our nation's capital. Assuming these stories are an accurate representation of what the African American community deals with on a daily basis (and I believe they are), I can understand why many in the community are struggling.  Several of the stories were emotionally exhausting and I was only sitting on my comfy couch reading them.  Living them would be whole new level of hard.

Many of the stories felt 'clipped out' of a larger narrative, which made it hard for me to get my bearings.  There were a few stories that I just couldn't get into and because I often read late at night, my eyes started drifting.  Most of the stories landed light-years away from my own life experience, but I would like to discuss the three times I felt a personal connection to the characters and how I connected with them (in italics).

The First Day - A young girl recounts getting ready for her first day of school and the difficulties her illiterate mother faces during registration.   Even though this is told from a young girl's perspective, I still connected with the mother's desire to give her child a better life and the sacrifices she was willing to make for her daughter.  

An Orange Line Train to Ballston - A single mom meets a man on the subway and dies a little as her young children proceed to ask a series of unfiltered questions. After a series of similar occurrences, the mother begins looking forward to their increasingly-less-accidental run-ins.  I saw my own inquisitive children in this story, asking incredibly personal questions of a complete stranger and I think many other moms will identify with how hard it is to juggle small children.   

A Dark Night - On a stormy night, several elderly women are gathered for a prayer group when they are joined by an estranged friend. One woman shares a haunting story that leaves another shaken.  We've all had to put up with the presence of that one person we'd rather avoid (am I right?) and the story within this story was fairly chilling.   

The young girl.  The single mom.  The group of elderly women.  We shared a moment; our metaphorical eyes met.  While I can't honestly say that I "enjoyed" every aspect of reading this book, I do believe that I came away with a better perspective.  

My Rating: 2.5 Stars

For the Sensitive Reader:  Those sensitive to profanity might want to look elsewhere.  Seriously, I stopped counting.  Possibly triggering material (including domestic violence, gang violence, drug use, and murder) as well as relatively vague sexual subject matter, and crude language.  

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