‘No More Than a Bubble’ by Jamel Brinkley

When two black students, Ben and Claudius, crash a Brooklyn house party thrown by Harvard grads, they meet their match in Sybil and Iris, two ‘wild women’ whom they spend the whole evening pursuing, until they’re taken back for a night of carnal promise. So far so formulaic, yet the story is dazzling in its reach, covering notions of intimacy, boundaries and thresholds, male vulnerability, race, class and sexuality. Brinkley pulls off this narrative feat with three effortlessly interwoven time-frames. There’s the present, from which the story is recounted, the party, which took place twenty-five years ago, and the deep past, in which Brinkley explores the mixed-race narrator’s relationship with his Italian father, a man whose face had ‘collapsed like a piece of rotting fruit’. Its closing moments – rich, complex, contradictory – in which the narrator’s true sexual identity is disclosed, are among the best in recent short fiction.  

First published in LitMag#2, 2018. Collected in A Lucky Man, Serpent’s Tail, 2019

‘Wolf and Rhonda’ by Jamel Brinkley

The high school hero, the former hottie – “the odd lumps of her figure bulged like the scutes of a turtle’s shell” – and the overweight girl, still overweight as a thirty-seven-year-old, are some of the people at the St. Paul’s Class of 1991 reunion at the Tavern on Bruckner in the south Bronx. The narrative shifts between Wolf, now known as “plain old Wilfred Jones” and Fat Rhonda who had “long ago decided it wasn’t worth it to pay much attention. The world was too awful.” The two in their youth had once had sex in a church. At the reunion it looks for a moment as if it will happen again, but it doesn’t. Brinkley’s complex and patient consideration of what has made them what they are creates people not characters. Wolf and Rhonda were on my mind long after I had finished reading.

From A Lucky Man, Graywolf Press, 2018