Wednesday, May 7, 2014



I was slightly disappointed with the first novel I read by the late great James Baldwin, Giovanni's Room. Although I found it difficult to empathize with the main character (who I found to be a little whiny and spoiled), I was really taken by how beautiful Baldwin's writing was. It was enough to keep me interested in reading more of his work and I'm glad I chose this book as the next one. This solid collection of 8 short stories is a great primer to his writing style and the themes that permeate most of his work, such as race, identity, sex, life in Harlem, and the influence of art, religion, and family. 

Baldwin's writing is consistently sincere, although some stories kept my attention more than others. There are two stories that are the big standouts in this collection. The soulful "Sonny's Blues" is about a man struggling to understand and reconnect with his estranged, heroin-addicted, musician brother, and also happens to be a look at the liberating power of the blues. The following quote is one the best descriptions of what great music, especially "the blues" is supposed to do, and what it means to be a musician:

"He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find new ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness."

The title story, "Going to Meet the Man", floored me and haunted me, and might be one of my favorite short stories. It actually kept me up at night thinking about it afterward. It's a story written with pitch-perfect confidence by Baldwin, about a middle-aged, racist, deputy sheriff of a Southern town in the U.S. recalling the event in his childhood that might have made him the bigot he is. The story challenges you to see how an innocent 8-year-old boy, who's best friend is black, can somehow turn into something else. It also explores the uncomfortable relationship between prejudice and sexuality, and how one can profoundly affect the other. A great piece.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please be respectful