His Mother’s House by Edward P. Jones, 1992
The magic trick:
Showing tragedy behind what should be a triumph
Yet another story in the Lost In The City collection with a cinematic scope. It’s really impressive how Jones is consistently able to build tension, drama and heartbreak in the space of 25-page stories.
This one is doomed from the start. We meet Joyce as she’s moving into a new house, paid for by her son. Crucially, we are never told how her son makes money. It’s easy to guess that he’s not a Boy Scout.
As a result, what should feel like a triumph, this woman finally enjoying comfortable living, only feels like a tragedy.
And that’s quite a trick on Jones’s part.
“Stop,” Joyce Moses said, “you’ll break the glass.” But her words lacked the scolding force of the old days, and she giggled and put both hands to her mouth and shook herself: She was still exhilarated by the new world her son had bought for her, and, in any case, one more crack in the top wouldn’t have been the end. Her two younger children were upstairs, asleep in oaken beds, “safer than they had ever been in their lives. Santiago Moses watched his mother, then he gave the table another playful tap. He was twenty years old.
“Nope nope nope,” Joyce said. “Don’t want another table.” She had been drinking, but “only a teensy-weensy bit a wine,” as she told Rickey after he arrived with Santiago. The carpet was down, having been installed throughout the house before she and Rickey and her two younger children moved in, but much of the new furniture had yet to be arranged in the rooms just as she wanted. There was no hurry. She sat on the floor, leaning back on her arms, her toes disappearing into the carpet. “With all this other stuff, don’t you think if I’da wanted another coffee table, I woulda gone out and ordered it?”
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