Why is The Known World So Good?
These characters are so often treated, and described, as “property,” a designation that erases their futures; but Jones insists on these futures—be they good or ill, and they are often extremes of both: horrible death or graduating from Yale. He insists on the humanity of even the smallest character. The ultimate result of this is a particular postmodern feat: the reader feels like a completist, knowing the world of the novel fully, past and present—while at the same time recognizing the artifice of that world, its angled relation to our own. It is a sometimes dizzying and deeply gratifying literary experience.
It’s always a good time to celebrate the beauty and poignancy of Edward P. Jones’s fiction but his 70th birthday makes such a celebration especially right. Lost in the City, Jones’s first book, a quiet wonder—a book I’ve read countless times, taught countless times, and discussed with many other writers who invariably love it as much as me—contains stories about African Americans living in working class neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. in the 50s and early 60s … the stories are simply heartbreaking.