In his muscular, reality-based fiction, Edward P. Jones chronicles the African-American experience — on the streets of Washington, D.C., in loving and desperately loveless homes, on antebellum plantations, in prison. The 14 tales in his All Aunt Hagar’s Children are substantial and populous, explicitly concerned with the ever-pertinent question: How do we balance duty to others with our own needs? The feckless 24-year-old narrator of the masterful title story spends his days dodging a bitter ex-girlfriend and daydreaming about hunting for gold in Alaska. He is ”just starting to dance away on the easy side — a little soft-shoe here, a little soft-shoe there,” avoiding all claims on his time. Then an immigrant woman dies in front of him on the street, and his mother’s childhood friend asks him to help find her son’s murderer. In this rambling, earthy whodunit, Jones weaves together three plotlines, a handful of backstories, a dozen characters, and a portrait of a young man on the brink of maturity. It’s more than you get from most novels.