A Lucky Man is James Brinkley’s debut collection of short stories. It is a collection of 9 expansive stories that complexly explore masculinity. In it, each of the male protagonists is trying to make sense of his relationships – with their parents, siblings, classmates and even strangers. The protagonists don’t always do right but the complex processes that fuel their failure, redemption and even maintenance of the status quo are fully explored. All the protagonists are black men and the stories are all set in the Brooklyn and the Bronx areas. However, the characters are as diverse as their circumstances.
I found this book through Storygraph, where it popped up on my feed as a recommendation last year. While I found Jamel Brinkley’s writing to be very crisp and sharp, his sentences were carefully constructed. However, I found the neatness of his prose to be in conflict with the vagueness of most of the stories. I struggled to go past the first three stories but once I persevered beyond there, it got better but still not as satisfying as I hoped. A major problem I have with short stories is the abruptness of most endings. The collection in A Lucky Man has an added problem in my view – the complexity of the characters obscure the import of the story and render most of them vague and yield seemingly random abrupt turns. While there is enough space for readers to think and deduce things in the stories, the vagueness seemed overbearing to me.
It is not all gloom as I was rewarded for my perseverance by some excellent stories (I thoroughly enjoyed A Family, Infinite Happiness and Wolf and Rhonda) before the collection is rounded up with Clifton’s Place, one that highlighted all that is wrong with this collection. In A Family, I enjoyed the intricate but complex and unusual web of relationships between Curtis, Andre and Lena. Wolf’s inadequacies and toxicity were well detailed in Wolf and Rhonda. An added low point is the characterization of female characters. I found them almost always defined by their bodies. It may be tricky as A Lucky Man sets out to depict real pictures of masculinity but I am not sure such a toxic characterization of females is completely true. In all, I will be eager to read Jamel Brinkley’s next work as long as it is not a short story collection and hopefully it is a novel. His writing is inviting enough but this collection did not do much for me.