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Lost in the City Paperback – November 30, 2004

4.6 out of 5 stars 54 customer reviews

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Through the African American Lens: Double Exposure by
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Young and old struggle for spiritual survival against the often crushing obstacles of the inner city in these 14 moving stories of African American life in Washington, D.C. Traveling street by street through the nation's capital, Jones introduces a wide range of characters, each of whom has a distinct way of keeping the faith. Betsy Ann Morgan, "The Girl Who Raised Pigeons," finds inspiration in the birds she cares for on the roof of her apartment building. Middle-aged Vivian Slater leads a hymn-singing group in "Gospel." The narrator of "The Store" labors to build up a neighborhood grocery; in "His Mother's House," Joyce Moses collects photographs and cares for the expensive home her young son has bought her with his crack earnings. Depicting characters who strive to preserve fragile bonds of family and community in a violent, tragic world, Jones writes knowingly of their nontraditional ways of caring for one another and themselves. His insightful portraits of young people and frank, unsensationalized depictions of horrifying social ills make this a poignant and promising first effort.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

YA-- In these 14 stories set in black neighborhoods of Washington, DC in the '60s and '70s, Jones establishes a mood and a specific sense of place, but he also presents universal hopes and aspirations. Beautifully and economically written, the selections are filled with revealing details of poverty and degradation, and yet the protagonists are survivors who look to find hope and meaning in their lives. The haunting, grainy black-and-white photographs add to the real, though slightly hazy, atmosphere and reveal the underlying grit portrayed so evocatively in the prose. A more-than-worthwhile addition. --Susan H. Woodcock, Potomac Library, Woodbridge, VA
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Amistad (November 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006079528X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060795283
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (54 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #894,899 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Edward P. Jones won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was nominated for the National Book Award for his debut collection of stories, Lost in the City.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
I have a strange suspicion that I would not have read Lost in the City if Edward P. Jones had not won the Pulitzer Prize for The Known World. And I think that would have been a big, big mistake.

This is an excellent collection of short stories, even for someone who doesn't really know a thing about Washington, D.C. or the people who live there. The stories aren't short stories in the most traditional sense - they don't end with surprising or inevitable events or revelations. But each and every glimpse into the lives of these characters is interesting, thoughtful, and specific. Jones manages to paint a colorful, human, and memorable picture of the lives of each of the characters he introduces.

Perhaps the most arresting part of his the stories, for me, is the language. There are so many passages that I will remember, but I will only share a few. In the story "Young Lions," a character named Caesar says to his girlfriend that he loves her:

"I'm glad you told me," she said. "I was beginning to wonder. You made my day."

He promised to fix her dinner before to went to Manny's and he told her once again that he loved her.

"I wish I could record that," she said, "and play it back any time I wanted."

These lines alone told me so, so much about the girlfriend, Carol, and I know that I won't forget her. Later, a character in a story called "The Sunday Following Mother's Day" notes that her father "sounded like every black country person she had ever heard, those people who talked of fetchin this and wearin britches and someone commencin to do such and such." I laughed out loud, because I, too, know some of these country people, and Jones's description is perfect.
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Format: Paperback
This collection, first published in 1992, was considered Jones's first literary effort. I find this idea of firsts interesting and would like to look at it briefly before I move on to a few of the craft elements in his stories that I would most like to steal.

This collection of short stories was published a decade before Jones won the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for his novel "The Known World." Some of the stories in the collection were first published in the 1980s in literary magazines like Ploughshares and Callaloo. One of the stories "Marie" also appeared in the Paris Review in 1992. The thing that I find interesting is that these publications do not seem to register with the general public or even reviewers. Instead, his books are presented as sudden, award winning events. Instead of a writing career spanning 25 years of craft and respectable publications, we are presented with the image of a of sudden event, a spectacular storm, a writer whose first novel won the Pulitzer Prize.

In any event, the first thing I did when I opened "Lost in the City" was to read the opening lines of each story. I wanted to see how and where he began his stories. I was thinking of an essay by Debra Spark called "Getting In and Getting Out." The essay appears in "Bringing the Devil to His Knees: The Craft of Fiction and the Writing Life." There is an anecdote in the essay about a friend the author who is screening stories for the Iowa Short Fiction Prize. She says, "If I have to read another story that begins `The alarm clock rang,' I'll shoot myself."

Although I have never started a story with this particular phrase, I do tend to begin a story at the beginning. So as I read through the Jones collection I paid particular attention to the places he began his stories.
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Format: Paperback
Jones is a very gifted writer; his characters are so believable and real. These are not the happiest of stories, but the quality of his writing is extraordinary. The two stories that stood out for me were "Orange Line to Ballston" and "Marie." Marie is an elderly woman who has outlived three husbands and must deal with the indignity of going for interviews at the Social Security office to be sitting there for hours on end long past the time for her appointment and treated as if she were invisible. Poignant and beautiful portrait of old age.
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Format: Paperback
This is one of the best books and best short story collections I have ever read. Jones is so in command of his craft, it is eerie. He is like Iceman in Top Gun, he simply doesn't make false moves or mistakes. He is always in control. He writes in a spare prose but will then sneak up with beautiful imagery and word play. I am an avid reader and so I am even more impressed by this collection. The range of characters ages is wonderful, the sequencing is brilliant, and all the stories were strong, a rarity.
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Edward P. Jones's stories about Washington D.C. are unconventional in that some don't have endings. Often they just come to a stop. You are forced to reflect back on what you just read.

Some are better than others. "The First Day" is about an illiterate mother taking her daughter to register for kindergarten. She has to pay another woman to fill out the registration papers for her. If that one doesn't get to you, you don't have a heart.

Many of the other stories are quite long, some as many as thirty pages. My favorite was "The Store," about a boy who takes a "make work" job at a neighborhood grocery and ends up managing the place. The store becomes more important than his personal life and he loses a woman he loved because of it. "Young Lions" is about a violent young man who doesn't hesitate to shoot a clerk during a hold-up. In the end, his violent lifestyle impinges on his personal life, and he starts slapping around the woman he really loves.

Washington D.C. is definitely a character in the stories. The streets are Alphabetical and the Avenues are named after states, but this the Washington of the sixties and deterioration is only just beginning to envelope the black section of town. There are stories about how involvement in drugs debases the characters and their family members. There are stories about characters who emigrated from the South. I can't think of one that didn't touch me in some way, and that doesn't usually happen in a collection of short stories.

Edward P. Jones should be a better known author than he is.
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