Janet van Eeden
2 minute read
2 Oct 2008
08:05

An enjoyable collection of short stories

Janet van Eeden

JANET VAN EEDEN reviews All Aunt Hagar's Children by Edward P. Jones. Jonathan Ball.

I have always loved collections of short stories. As a teen I devoured the work of a few masters of the short story genre: Somerset Maugham, Roald Dahl and Katherine Mansfield. Not many writers have equaled their ability, in my opinion, to write an intriguing opening sentence and to develop that into a skilful story until its final twist.

I am delighted to discover another short story writer to add to my admittedly limited repertoire. Edward P. Jones has won the Pulitzer Prize, among other awards, for his first collection of short stories, The Known World, and now offers us his second collection in All Aunt Hagar’s Children.

Jones writes about characters from his own African-American milieu and the prose virtually sings with the cadences of the African-American accent. The characters are visceral and engaging, even when they are criminals behind bars, as is Caesar Matthews in Old Boys, Old Girls. Jones is the master of the captivating opening sentence, with “They caught him after he had killed the second man”, opening the latter story for example. Characters are sharply drawn and their despair is often their own worst enemy as Jones examines a nation carrying the pain of its forefathers in its present psyche.

Each story deals with completely different characters: from a newly married couple who find an abandoned baby in a tree, to a gifted young girl gaining entrance to a privileged convent where she experiences the harshness of class strictures for the first time, to an aging criminal trying to carry on with his life after his release from prison. Even though the subject matter may sound depressing, the stories are vibrant and enjoyable. This is due to Jones’s masterful use of prose to create extraordinarily evocative stories. All Aunt Hagar’s Children is a highly enjoyable collection, and there’s nothing quite like being able to read a whole story every night at bedtime.