Lost in the City

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Edward P. Jones has written fourteen stories about life in the nation’s capital. His characters are all lost in the city, in one way or another. The central character in the title story chooses to be lost; a successful lawyer, she tries to escape her past when she learns that her mother has died. Starting out to go to the hospital for a final farewell, she tells the ancient cab driver to get lost in the city, and he tries. Most of the other characters, from the young girl whose pigeon roost is ravaged by rats to the old woman fearing the loss of her Social Security benefits, are lost through fate rather than choice.

Jones’s approach to these characters is carefully neutral. All but two of the narratives are presented by an omniscient observer who neither praises nor condemns. The mother who uses cocaine, excuses her older son’s dealing and lives with a succession of men is not condemned; when her son shoots and kills her godson over failure to pay for drugs, she unlocks the doors to her apartment so the fugitive son will be able to come home. She is presented no less sympathetically than the old woman who has trouble at the Social Security office. Called in for a routine check, she never gets to see a counselor despite making several visits to the office. Finally, in total frustration, she slaps the receptionist who has treated her scornfully, and from then on lives in fear that she will lose her benefits.

Many of the stories are grim, but there are elements of humor in some and a warm humanity among many of the characters that somehow pierces the rather flat narrative style of Jones’s prose. Some of the longer stories digress too often before coming to the point, but on the whole these are affecting and powerful stories. The photographs by Amos Chan which accompany the stories accurately reflect the realities of life for these characters.

Sources for Further Study

Kirkus Reviews. LX, April 1, 1992, p. 418.

Library Journal. CXVII, May 15, 1992, p. 122.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. July 12, 1992, p. 6.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, August 23, 1992, p. 16.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, March 23, 1992, p. 59.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, June 21, 1992, p. 3.

Washington Times. July 29, 1992, p. E2.