cover image A Lucky Man

A Lucky Man

Jamel Brinkley. Graywolf (FSG, dist.), $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-55597-805-1

The nine stories in Brinkley’s promising debut address persistent issues of race, class, and masculinity across three decades of New York City’s history, from Manhattan’s corporatization in the mid-’90s to the outer boroughs’ gentrification today. In “No More Than a Bubble,” two black Columbia undergrads crash a house party in Brooklyn, where they pair off with two older women with confounding, less-than-successful results. An imaginative young man finds his expectations of upper-middle-class life dashed during a day trip to the suburbs in “I Happy Am,” while a former convict reconnects with a dead buddy’s girlfriend in “A Family.” The title story and “Clifton’s Place” are the collection's two most successful stories, the latter conveying the particular sadness of older African-Americans left adrift by market forces and “revitalization.” Other entries, in plot and in prose, can feel too polite and mannered to register as memorable, nodding toward a stylistic exuberance and transgressive edge that never fully appear. Nonetheless, Brinkley’s stories offer penetrating perspectives and stirring tragedies. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie Agency. (May) Correction: an earlier version of this review had an incorrect detail about a story and a misleading description.