Five young Black men and women, all friends since childhood and now on the cusp of college, get together one warm afternoon in October to, as "an act of nostalgia," walk the streets of Brooklyn.

Over the following weeks, the "little crew" meets less and less, all too aware their friendship is on borrowed time: "this was what life did, plain and simple, nothing profound so maybe don't worry too much. It pulled bodies apart." But when a slow-witted acquaintance attracts both rabbits and crowds with a wild and noisy act, they find themselves reunited and making a lasting memory by reveling in the chaos.

"Blessed Deliverance," the first story in Jamel Brinkley's second collection, sets the template of what's to come. His 10 tales revolve around Black people navigating personal upheavals and societal change in New York City. Like all good stories, Brinkley's are slices of life or dramas in miniature that, despite their relative brevity, come packed with incident, insight and emotion.

In "The Let-Out," a young, unnamed man becomes entranced by Ramona, a woman around his mother's age. They go dancing, visit an exhibition and forge an intimate connection. But when she quizzes him about his father and opens up about her past, it becomes clear that it isn't just age she has in common with his mother.

Some of Brinkley's finest stories depict romantic relationships blossoming or withering on the vine. The narrator of "Bartow Station" falls for Zoelle and enjoys a series of dates with her, exploring different neighborhoods of the city, until a tour of the world's oldest subway tunnel brings back unwanted memories of a tragic misadventure. In the title tale, "Witness," Silas looks on as his sister, Bernice, lets a DJ called Dove into her life. Tensions mount as Dove proves to be irresponsible and immature. Soon, though, the main concern is not Bernice's hasty marriage but rather her rapidly deteriorating health.

Brinkley's 2018 debut collection, "A Lucky Man," was a finalist for the National Book Award. This supremely accomplished follow-up demonstrates that he is no flash in the pan. His language has verve, poise and moments of unexpected beauty: "A crooked grin stretched one side of his face, like the banner of some new country tautened by a sudden wind." His well-drawn characters reveal flaws and vulnerabilities, especially Gloria in "Sahar," a lonely widow who speaks her mind and airs her recollections — and indiscretions — in letters to a food delivery woman. Only "Arrows," a somewhat inconsequential tale about "three generations of eventual ghosts," fails to hit the mark.

Brinkley is shaping up to be one of the most impressive contemporary practitioners of short stories. Here, as before, we watch in admiration as he makes a little go an extremely long way.

Malcolm Forbes has written for the Times Literary Supplement, the Economist and the Wall Street Journal. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.


By: Jamel Brinkley.

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 240 pages, $26.