In his story collection, William Henry Lewis beautifully renders the odd, quiet moments before and after life’s explosive events. Samuel Cates, the enigmatic loner at the center of ”Why We Jump,” enters a neighbor’s barbecue, uninvited, with a crash. Through the roof of their apartment’s deck. The narrator, a child at the time, ”remembers how still everyone became. Except for her father, who was cursing into the alley. Mr. Cates’s surprise landing had bounced the ribs from the grill into a Dumpster below.” In the title story, a young woman, white, paraphrases a line from a Langston Hughes poem to one-up a professor, black, with whom she is flirting: ”You be nice, life ain’t been no crystal stair for me, neither.” Lewis creates unique characters such as these, individuals defined by much more than their race, whose complexity leads to surprising destinations.