Lost in the Cityby Edward P. Jones
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Nominated for the National Book Award, this masterful debut collection of interconnected short stories captures significant moments in the everyday lives of inner-city characters. "His (Jones) stories will touch chords of empathy and recognition in all readers."--New York Times.
- HarperCollins Publishers
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- 1st ed
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Lost in the City
The Girl Who Raised Pigeons
Her father would say years later that she had dreamed that part of it, that she had never gone out through the kitchen window at two or three in the morning to visit the birds. By that time in his life he would have so many notions about himself set in concrete. And having always believed that he slept lightly, he would not want to think that a girl of nine or ten could walk by him at such an hour in the night without his waking and asking of the dark, Who is it? What's the matter?
But the night visits were not dreams, and they remained forever as vivid to her as the memory of the way the pigeons' iridescent necklaces flirted with light. The visits would begin not with any compulsion in her sleeping mind to visit, but with the simple need to pee or to get a drink of water. In the dark, he went barefoot out of her room, past her father in the front room conversing in his sleep, across the kitchen and through the kitchen window, out over the roof a few steps to the coop. It could be winter, it could be summer, but the most she ever got was something she called pigeon silence. Sometimes she had the urge to unlatch the door and go into the coop, or, at the very least, to try to reach through the wire and the wooden slats to stroke a wing or a breast, to share whatever the silence seemed to conceal. But she always kept her hands to herself, and after a few minutes, as if relieved, she would go back to her bed and visit the birds again in sleep.
What Betsy Ann Morgan and her father Robert did agree on was that the pigeons began with the barber Miles Patterson. Her father had known Miles long before the girl was born, before the thought to marry her mother had even crossed his mind. The barber lived in a gingerbread brown house with his old parents only a few doors down from the barbershop he owned on the corner of 3rd and L streets, Northwest. On some Sundays, after Betsy Ann had come back from church with Miss Jenny, Robert, as he believed his wife would have done, would take his daughter out to visit with relatives and friends in the neighborhoods just beyond Myrtle Street, Northeast, where father and daughter lived.
One Sunday, when Betsy Ann was eight years old, the barber asked her again if she wanted to see his pigeons, "my children." He had first asked her some three years before. The girl had been eager to see them then, imagining she would see the same frightened creatures who waddled and flew away whenever she chased them on sidewalks and in parks. The men and the girl had gone into the backyard, and the pigeons, in a furious greeting, had flown up and about the barber. "Oh, my babies," he said, making kissing sounds. "Daddy's here." In an instant, Miles's head was surrounded by a colorful flutter of pigeon life. The birds settled on his head and his shoulders and along his thick, extended arms, and some of the birds looked down meanly at her. Betsy Ann screamed, sending the birds back into a flutter, which made her scream even louder. And still screaming, she ran back into the house. The men found her in the kitchen, her head buried in the lap of Miles's mother, her arms tight around the waist of the old woman, who had been sitting at the table having Sunday lunch with her husband.
"Buster," Miles's mother said to him, "you shouldn't scare your company like this. This child's bout to have a heart attack."
Three years later Betsy Ann said yes again to seeing the birds. In the backyard, there was again the same fluttering chaos, but this time the sight of the wings and bodies settling about Miles intrigued her and she drew closer until she was a foot or so away, looking up at them and stretching out her arm as she saw Miles doing. "Oh, my babies,"the barber said ... "Your daddy's here."One of the birds landed on Betsy Ann's shoulder and another in the palm of her hand. The gray one in her hand looked dead at Betsy Ann,blinked, then swiveled his head and gave the girl a different view of a radiant black necklace. "They tickle," she said to her father, who stood back.
For weeks and weeks after that Sunday, Betsy Ann pestered her father about getting pigeons for her. And the more he told her no, that it was impossible, the more she wanted them. He warned her that he would not do anything to help her care for them, he warned her that all the bird-work meant she would not ever again have time to play with her friends, he warned her about all the do-do the pigeons would let loose. But she remained a bulldog about it, and he knew that she was not often a bulldog about anything. In the end he retreated to the fact that they were only renters in Jenny and Walter Creed's house.
"Miss Jenny likes birds," the girl said. "Mr. Creed likes birds, too."
"People may like birds, but nobody in the world likes pigeons."
"Cept Mr. Miles," she said.
"Don't make judgments bout things with what you know bout Miles." Miles Patterson, a bachelor and, some women said, a virgin, was fifty-six years old and for the most part knew no more about the world than what he could experience in newspapers or on the radio and in his own neighborhood, beyond which he rarely ventured. "There's ain't nothing out there in the great beyond for me," Miles would say to people who talked with excitement about visiting such and such a place ...Lost in the City. Copyright © by Edward P. Jones. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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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.
- 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
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This is an awesome read of short stories about living in a city; specifically DC but anyone who grew up or lives in a city can relate to the landscape, the rich and interesting characters and the struggles of life. I would totally recommend this read coupled with All Aunt Hagar's Children; yes, they are connected.
Quite honestly, I'm not really one to enjoy compilations of short stories-I tend to avoid them in the classroom and I rarely read them for fun because I don't care for them. Needless to say, I really didn't care for this book. The short stories weren't interesting to me, and I personally found a majority of them inappropriate. Perhaps I'm old fashioned, but I don't think that every story needs references to sex or cussing to validate it, and I find myself becoming uncomfortable when I read stories like these. These stories were frustrating for me in that many of them just seem to end with no conclusion. They read in the same fashion as Flannery O'Conner, and as I wasn't a fan of her writing either, it makes sense that these short stories also wouldn't be for me. I do understand the premise for these short stories as Jones is writing what he knows, but I personally need something much more upbeat. One star.