All Aunt Hagar's Children

All Aunt Hagar's Children

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by Edward P. Jones

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In fourteen sweeping and sublime stories, five of which have been published in The New Yorker, the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World shows that his grasp of the human condition is firmer than ever

Returning to the city that inspired his first prizewinning book, Lost in the City, Jones has filled this new


In fourteen sweeping and sublime stories, five of which have been published in The New Yorker, the bestselling and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Known World shows that his grasp of the human condition is firmer than ever

Returning to the city that inspired his first prizewinning book, Lost in the City, Jones has filled this new collection with people who call Washington, D.C., home. Yet it is not the city's power brokers that most concern him but rather its ordinary citizens. All Aunt Hagar's Children turns an unflinching eye to the men, women, and children caught between the old ways of the South and the temptations that await them further north, people who in Jones's masterful hands, emerge as fully human and morally complex, whether they are country folk used to getting up with the chickens or people with centuries of education behind them.

In the title story, in which Jones employs the first-person rhythms of a classic detective story, a Korean War veteran investigates the death of a family friend whose sorry destiny seems inextricable from his mother's own violent Southern childhood. In "In the Blink of God's Eye" and "Tapestry" newly married couples leave behind the familiarity of rural life to pursue lives of urban promise only to be challenged and disappointed.

With the legacy of slavery just a stone's throw away and the future uncertain, Jones's cornucopia of characters will haunt readers for years to come.

Editorial Reviews

Edward P. Jones's All Aunt Hagar's Children borrows its title from one of his mother's favorite expressions, but his second collection of short fiction possesses meaning far beyond the personal. These 14 stories manifest the talent for characterization and storytelling so evident in his National Book Award finalist novel, The Known World.
Jonathan Yardley
Now there can be no doubt about it: Edward P. Jones belongs in the first rank of American letters. With the publication of All Aunt Hagar's Children, his third book and second collection of short stories, Jones has established himself as one of the most important writers of his own generation -- he is 55 years old -- and of the present day. Not merely that, but he is one of the few contemporary American writers of literary fiction who is more interested in the world around him than he is in himself, with the happy result that he has much to tell us about ourselves and how we live now.
— The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
Coming after the Pulitzer Prize- winning novel The Known World, Jones's second collection of stories journeys the length and breadth of Washington, D.C., past and present, for inspiration. James, stentorian and assured, sounds like an East Coast version of Charlton Heston's Moses, intoning Jones's prose like a contemporary version of the 10 Commandments. There is an odd disjunction between James's mostly uninflected reading and the heavily accented dialect he provides for Jones's characters when they speak, but James manages to make it work. Even the voice of God must come down to earth occasionally. Jones, acclaimed as one of the most talented American writers currently at work, composes smooth, measured prose that demands a reader like James. Jones's own mixture of flowery prose and grit is nicely matched by James's reading, which follows the ebb and flow of Jones's stories like the score of an opera. Simultaneous release with the Amistad Press hardcover (Reviews, June 19). (Sept.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
This collection of 14 short stories follows Jones's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Known Worldas an illustration of black life in America. His stories span the 20th century in Washington, DC. Jones's Washington is not as much the center of international power as a place offering hope for rural descendants of slaves. Several characters have made it to the middle class, often through government employment, but economic success doesn't exempt one from suffering, a lesson Horace, an aging womanizer in "A Rich Man," learns as he seeks ever younger prey. The retired Pentagon employee is thrilled by his success until a misjudgment results in the trashing of his treasured record collection. "In the Blink of God's Eye" features newlyweds Ruth and Aubrey Patterson, who leave rural Virginia looking for a better life. But the dislocation is hard on Ruth, so when she finds an abandoned baby in a tree, she feels even more bewildered by her new surroundings. Of particular interest is Jones's treatment of the spiritual influence on the characters' lives. The author, a gifted storyteller, draws his characters with rich detail, capturing the intricacies of human interaction. Peter Francis James narrates in a clear, rich bass, re-creating dialects in a convincing way. Strongly recommended for large public libraries.
—Nancy R. Ives
Kirkus Reviews
The punishing legacy of poverty, crime and racism spans several generations, in the Hemingway Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winning author's long-awaited second collection. Wielding with enviable precision the elegant, plain style that so distinguished his earlier stories (gathered as Lost in the City, 1992) and single novel (The Known World, 2003), Jones probes deeply the wounded yet often resilient psyches of an imposing gallery of vivid, varied characters. A convicted murderer released from prison after 20 years finds unapproachable the family he had disappointed and betrayed, but makes himself of use by tenderly preparing the body of a former acquaintance for burial ("Old Boys, Old Girls"). A young girl raised among a family blighted by alcoholism and lawlessness glimpses a hopeful future in the promise of a school that accepts, nurtures and challenges her ("Spanish in the Morning"). A retired army officer cannot control his lifelong appetite for younger women and fast living and becomes-in a way he had not foreseen-"A Rich Man." Elsewhere, one woman meets the Devil in a Safeway supermarket, another is struck blind while riding a bus-and their ordeals redefine them, stunningly. A "blessed one" who mysteriously survives catastrophes that claim numerous less-fortunate souls reaches a hard-won maturity, and eventually comprehends the nature of her "gift" and the obligations she must accept ("A Poor Guatemalan Dreams of a Downtown in Peru"). Like Alice Munro's, Jones's stories exfoliate unpredictably, embracing multiple characters and interconnected histories and destinies. In "Common Law," domestic violence infects and transforms a peaceful neighborhood. In the brooding title story, a KoreanWar vet's murder investigation proves that "Blood spilled with violence never goes away." And in the magnificent "Root Worker," a woman doctor learns from an aged "voodoo woman" that we are often helplessly and unknowingly the cause of our own-and our loved ones'-pain. Jones's engrossing, exquisitely crafted and unforgettable stories offer images of the African-American experience that are unparalleled in American fiction.

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Read an Excerpt

All Aunt Hagar's Children LP

By Edward P. Jones

HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

Copyright © 2006

Edward P. Jones

All right reserved.

ISBN: 0060853514

Chapter One

In the Blink of God's Eye

That 1901 winter when the wife and her husband were still new to Washington, there came to the wife like a scent carried on the wind some word that wolves roamed the streets and roads of the city after sundown. The wife, Ruth Patterson, knew what wolves could do: she had an uncle who went to Alaska in 1895 to hunt for gold, an uncle who was devoured by wolves not long after he slept under his first Alaskan moon. Still, the night, even in godforsaken Washington, sometimes had that old song that could pull Ruth up and out of her bed, the way it did when she was a girl across the Potomac River in Virginia where all was safe and all was family. Her husband, Aubrey, always slept the sleep of a man not long out of boyhood and never woke. Hearing the song call her from her new bed in Washington, Ruth, ever mindful of the wolves, would take up their knife and pistol and kiss Aubrey's still-hairless face and descend to the porch. She was well past seventeen, and he was edging toward eighteen, a couple not even seven whole months married. The house--and its twin next door--was always quiet, for those city houses were populated mostly by country people used to going to bed with the chickens. On the porch, only a few paces from the corner of 3rd and L Streets, N.W., she would stare at the gaslight onthe corner and smell the smoke from the hearth of someone's dying fire, listening to the song and remembering the world around Arlington, Virginia.

That night in late January she watched a drunken woman across 3rd Street make her way down 3rd to K Street, where she fell, silently, her dress settling down about her once her body had come to rest. The drunken woman was one more thing to hold against Washington. The woman might have been the same one from two weeks ago, the same one from five weeks ago. The woman lay there for a long time, and Ruth pulled her coat tight around her neck, wondering if she should venture out into the cold of no-man's-land to help her. Then the woman pulled herself up slowly on all four limbs and at last made her stumbling way down K toward 4th Street. She must know, Ruth thought, surely she must know about the wolves. Ruth pulled her eyes back to the gaslight, and as she did, she noticed for the first time the bundle suspended from the tree in the yard, hanging from the apple tree that hadn't borne fruit in more than ten years.

Ruth fell back a step, as if she had been struck. She raised the pistol in her right hand, but the hand refused to steady itself, and so she dropped the knife and held the pistol with both hands, waiting for something -terrible and canine to burst from the bundle. An invisible hand locked about her mouth and halted the cry she wanted to give the world. A wind came up and played with her coat, her nightgown, tapped her ankles and hands, then went over and nudged the bundle so that it moved an inch or so to the left, an inch or so to the right. The rope creaked with the brittleness of age. And then the wind came back and gave her breath again.

A kitten's whine rose feebly from the bundle, a cry of innocence she at first refused to believe. Blinking the tears from her eyes, she reached down and took up the knife with her left hand, holding both weapons out in front of her. She waited. What a friend that drunken woman could be now. She looked at the gaslight, and the dancing yellow spirit in the dirty glass box took her down the two steps and walked her out into the yard until she was two feet from the bundle. She poked it twice with the knife, and in response, like some reward, the bundle offered a short whine, a whine it took her a moment or two to recognize.

So this was Washington, she thought as she reached up on her tiptoes and cut the two pieces of rope that held the bundle to the tree's branch and unwrapped first one blanket and then another. So this was the Washington her Aubrey had brought her across the Potomac River to--a city where they hung babies in night trees.

When Aubrey Patterson was three years old, his father took the family to Kansas where some of the father's people were prospering. The sky goes all the way up to God napping on his throne, the father's brother had written from Kansas, and you can get much before he wakes up. The father borrowed money from family and friends for train tickets and a few new clothes, thinking, knowing, he would be able to pay them back with Kansas money before a year or so had gone by. Pay them all back, son, Aubrey's father said moments before he died, some twelve years after the family had boarded the train from Kansas and returned to Virginia with not much more to their names than bile. And with the clarity of a mind seeing death, his father, Miles, reeled off the names of all those he owed money to, commencing with the man to whom he owed the most.

Aubrey's two older sisters married not long after the family returned to Virginia and moved with their husbands to other farms in Arlington County. They--Miles, the mother, Essie, and Aubrey--lived mostly from hand to mouth, but they did not go without. Aubrey's sisters and their husbands were generous, and the three of them, in their little house on their little piece of land with a garden and chickens and two cows, were surrounded by country people just as generous who had known the family when they had had a brighter sun.


Excerpted from All Aunt Hagar's Children LP
by Edward P. Jones
Copyright © 2006 by Edward P. Jones.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Edward P. Jones, the New York Times bestselling author, has been awarded the Pulitzer Prize, for fiction, the National Book Critics Circle award, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, and the Lannan Literary Award for The Known World; he also received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2004. His first collection of stories, Lost in the City, won the PEN/Hemingway Award and was short listed for the National Book Award. His second collection, All Aunt Hagar’s Children, was a finalist for the Pen/Faulkner Award. He has been an instructor of fiction writing at a range of universities, including Princeton. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Brief Biography

Washington, D.C.
Date of Birth:
October 5, 1950
Place of Birth:
Washington, D.C.
B.A., College of the Holy Cross, 1972; M.F.A., University of Virginia, 1981

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4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I liked 'The Known World' a lot, but 'All Aunt Hagar's Children' is even more of an epiphany in terms of Mr. Jones's writing. This is definitely one of the great moments in contemporary American literature, both in terms of style and substance. For once, the work matches the hype. Mr. Jones is light years beyond most other highly praised authors.
GailCooke More than 1 year ago
Some things are well worth waiting for and Edward P. Jonses's follow-up to his Pulitzer Prize winning debut novel 'The Known World' (2003) is most assuredly one of them. Once again he uses short story formats to illuminate and make memorable his characters, ordinary people, really, but to the reader they are unforgettable. This author's evocation of black life in America is incomparable. The 14 stories that comprise 'All Aunt Hagar's Children' are set in Washington, the city where Jones was raised and now lives. He opens with 'In The Blink of God's Eye,' the story of Ruth and Aubrey, a young couple in their late teens and recently married. Ruth does not always rest well in 'godforsaken Washington' while Aubrey 'always slept the sleep of a man not long out of boyhood.' One night when Ruth was wakeful she went out in back where she found a baby tied in a bundle hanging from a tree limb. Thus, she thought Washington was 'a city where they hung babies in night trees.' As is his wont Jones treats readers to the earlier lives of his characters, rendering them all the more accessible and sympathetic. This is especially true in 'Resurrecting Methuselah' in which we meet Anita Channing who sits by the bedside of Bethany, her ill daughter. She sits in a wooden chair built a century and a half ago by a former slave. Anita's husband, Percival, is serving in Okinawa, where he spends much time with a prostitute, Sara Lee. When Percival discovers he has breast cancer he calls Anita and asks her to come to him. She reaches Honolulu, a stopover in her flight, where she has an opportunity to look back on her childhood and wonder what the future holds for herself and her child. 'All Aunt Hagar's Children' concludes with 'Tapestry,' another story of a young couple, Anne and George, marrying and leaving their rural roots behind. George is a porter on a train, the train that carries them to Washington. As the train slows close to its destination Anne whispers, Mama, Papa, 'I'm a long way from home.' For this reader that was the gist of all of these marvelous stories, people seeking a better life a long way from home. Jones is such an incredibly gifted writer, his prose is succinct, true, impeccably crafted. Reading his work is not only a pleasure but a privilege as well. - Gail Cooke
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book just doesn't come together. I loved The Known World and was dissapointed in this one.
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SkyeEB More than 1 year ago
This is artful tale-telling of fourteen different tales--all examining characters' actions and feelings as they seek relief from life's tribulations. The thread that connects these stories lie in the setting(Washington, D,C.),the time(1900's) and the characters' ethnicity. The title, surely, is a metaphorical reference to the Biblical character, Ishmael. Feeling stripped of a birthright, the characters seek new opportunities for which, unknown to themselves, they are ill-equipped to seize.
LifeExamined More than 1 year ago
I don't normally purchase books of short stories; however, based on the author's novels, I did buy All Aunt Hagar's Children. I am so glad I did. It is a collection of mostly heart-rending tales of Southern, rural African Americans moved to urban Washington, D.C. Of course, their Southern lives follow them and then must mix with "progressive" D.C. If only more authors wrote as well as Edward P. Jones, I would read all day, all night.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
luv2readTX More than 1 year ago
This book is not at all what I was expecting. It is a collection of short stories and I am having a very difficult making it through the first story. hte author's writing style is a little confusing. MAybe it is just not the right time for me to read this one.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago