Edward P. Jones won the Pulitzer Prize for his previous work, The Known World, which I believe was his first novel. Prior to that he had written Lost in the City, a collection of short stories, as is All Aunt Hagar’s Children.
Jones uses a wide variety of writing styles throughout this book. ‘Spanish in the Morning’ is told from the perspective of a kindergartner who skips a grade in Catholic school. ‘All Aunt Hagar’s Children’ is a brilliantly written piece of detective fiction, similar to that of Walter Mosley’s. The main character and narrator of the story, is convinced by his elderly mother and her group of friends to look into the death of the son of one of the women. It was ruled a drug overdose by the police, but there was plenty of evidence to suggest otherwise.
‘Root Worker’ was one of my favorite stories, in which a medical doctor comes to terms with her mother being healed by a root worker (at that time, thought to be nearly synonymous with a witch doctor). ‘Blindsided’ was an interesting story about a young woman who unexpectedly lost her sight while riding a bus to a Sam Cooke concert. By far my favorite story was ‘The Devil Swims Across the Anacostia River’, which was about a woman who met the Devil (sans horns and pitchfork) in a grocery store.
I like reading collections of short stories for a number of reasons. And there is something unique about the stories in Hagar. Although few of them are longer than 40 pages, they read like full-length novels. Jones is so adept at developing his characters that it hardly feels like reading short stories. Two things are central to all of these stories: the African American experience and Washington, D.C. Ranging throughout the 20th Century, each of the stories either takes place in D.C., or involves the area in some way.