It’s The Stacks Book Club day, and we’re joined again by author (No Ashes in the Fire), activist, and podcaster (Being Seen), Darnell Moore to dissect Citizen: An American Lyricby Claudia Rankine. We talk about how the book, published in 2014 holds up, who gets to express rage and joy, and what Rankine forces her readers to reckon with throughout the book. There are no spoilers on this episode.
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In the nine expansive stories ofA Lucky Man, fathers and sons attempt to salvage relationships with friends and family members and confront mistakes made in the past. An imaginative young boy from the Bronx goes swimming with his group from day camp at a backyard pool in the suburbs, and faces the effects of power and privilege in ways he can barely grasp. A pair of college boys on the prowl follow two girls home from a party and have to own the uncomfortable truth of their desires. And at a capoeira conference, two brothers grapple with how to tell the story of their family, caught in the dance of their painful, fractured history.
Jamel Brinkley’s stories, in a debut that announces the arrival of a significant new voice, reflect the tenderness and vulnerability of black men and boys whose hopes sometimes betray them, especially in a world shaped by race, gender, and class―where luck may be the greatest fiction of all.
When you encounter a writer that takes the path less traveled, sometimes the work can feel overwrought and self-important. You sense the labor that went into being clever or different, as if the author is showing off how unique their thinking is compared to everyone around them. That is not the case with Jamel Brinkley and A Lucky Man. Brinkley instead proves himself to be authentically singular with these stories. His characters and events feel fresh and effortless, as if there was no other thing in the world for him to do but write these stories.
I have not read many short story collections and I think there is certainly a muscle needed to switch ones mind quickly between stories, a muscle that allows you to move on seamlessly from one set of characters to the next. I have still yet to develop that muscle. That being said, these stories are strong on their own, they are vulnerable and rich, and tell of life as a Black man in ways I’ve never seen depicted. There are no two dimensional characters in this book, there are no stereotypes. Everyone is layered and nuanced in a way that left me wanting more from many of the stories. I could easily imagine many being turned into movies. Brinkley obviously loves his characters, at times I felt that there is no way he created these people out of thin air, they felt like his loved ones, his real life friends and family somehow turned into fiction. I have no idea if that is true or not, but either way, you could feel the deep connection Brinkley has to the people in his book.
I often struggled transitioning between stories, and sometimes felt like too little happened. I felt unfulfilled. Sometimes so little happened I have forgotten what happened at all. This book is all suspense and sometimes there wasn’t enough payoff. I felt disconnected from the emotion of some of the stories. However, for a debut collection, I am thrilled to see what will come next as I thoroughly enjoyed the process of reading this book, even if it doesn’t stick with me down the road.
My personal favorite stories were “A Family” and “Everything the Mouth Eats”. This book has received much praise from critics and readers alike, I would not hesitate to recommend this book to you.
Hardcover: 264 pages
Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition, First Printing edition (May 1, 2018)
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The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website. Shopping through these links helps support the show, but does not effect my opinions on books and products. For more information click here.