The punishing legacy of poverty, crime and racism spans several generations, in the Hemingway Award– and Pulitzer Prize–winning author’s long-awaited second collection.
Wielding with enviable precision the elegant, plain style that so distinguished his earlier stories (gathered as Lost in the City, 1992) and single novel (The Known World, 2003), Jones probes deeply the wounded yet often resilient psyches of an imposing gallery of vivid, varied characters. A convicted murderer released from prison after 20 years finds unapproachable the family he had disappointed and betrayed, but makes himself of use by tenderly preparing the body of a former acquaintance for burial (“Old Boys, Old Girls”). A young girl raised among a family blighted by alcoholism and lawlessness glimpses a hopeful future in the promise of a school that accepts, nurtures and challenges her (“Spanish in the Morning”). A retired army officer cannot control his lifelong appetite for younger women and fast living and becomes—in a way he had not foreseen—“A Rich Man.” Elsewhere, one woman meets the Devil in a Safeway supermarket, another is struck blind while riding a bus—and their ordeals redefine them, stunningly. A “blessed one” who mysteriously survives catastrophes that claim numerous less-fortunate souls reaches a hard-won maturity, and eventually comprehends the nature of her “gift” and the obligations she must accept (“A Poor Guatemalan Dreams of a Downtown in Peru”). Like Alice Munro’s, Jones’s stories exfoliate unpredictably, embracing multiple characters and interconnected histories and destinies. In “Common Law,” domestic violence infects and transforms a peaceful neighborhood. In the brooding title story, a Korean War vet’s murder investigation proves that “Blood spilled with violence never goes away.” And in the magnificent “Root Worker,” a woman doctor learns from an aged “voodoo woman” that we are often helplessly and unknowingly the cause of our own—and our loved ones’—pain.
Jones’s engrossing, exquisitely crafted and unforgettable stories offer images of the African-American experience that are unparalleled in American fiction.