The characters who populate the nine stories in Jamel Brinkley's singular collection feel simultaneously like budding children and grown men who have lived several lifetimes ... They report on their worlds with an outsider quality so characteristic of the young—observant and aware but struggling to gain access to others—yet are capable of distilling the motivations of those around them with a deftness so swift it's almost damning ... his masterfully paced stories bring each character he constructs into the half-light, where they often remain seductively enigmatic ... Through pages of peerless prose and startingly sharp sentences, what ultimately emerges is a constantly reframed argument about the role of power and masculinity, where vulnerability pulses beneath a skin of self-preservation.
There’s something magical about a great story collection. The stories bump up against each other and speak to each other, as well as to the reader, creating a whole that’s significantly more than its parts. In A Lucky Man, Jamel Brinkley’s stunning debut collection, the stories are not formally linked, and yet they are, implicitly, by their beautiful prose, by their intimate gaze at character, by their focus on black men, by their setting in New York City. These are stories that can be read again and again because each time through, the reader learns a bit more: about the characters, about the world, and about themselves ... The collection will rightly be compared to Edward P. Jones’s story collections, and Brinkley’s stories also bring to mind the work of William Trevor and Yiyun Li ... A collection as fine as this, of fiction that is reflecting our world and searching for the truth, is one to be treasured, read and reread, admired, and loved.
... the collection is intent on recognizing what masculinity looks like, questioning our expectations of it, and criticizing its toxicity — and somehow managing to do all of that with love ... There's a fine line between outright, blatant, or malicious sexism and this more comfortable, seemingly less offensive place where men are merely ignorant of the ways they take possession of women — their looks, their labor, their humanity. And this is the line Brinkley knows how to straddle, creating fully formed characters who wrestle with what they think they have a right to ... And while it's clearly a topic that concerns him, Brinkley's book isn't only about masculinity. It also deals in family relationships, love, aging, loss, and disappointment — the universal themes that keep us coming back to literature — while also conveying versions of black male experience. In fact, the collection may include only nine stories, but in each of them, Brinkley gives us an entire world.