Last night I read “Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin, I hadn’t read this short story in many years (had to read it in college). I was ambushed by the freshness and compelling writing of the man. We become like strangers to our past and maybe that’s why mostly we can never go back, because we change and things change, and there needs to be a common belief from all involved to make things work. Well as I was reading Sonny’s Blues, I do believe I was touched by something that seemed very close to magical and it worked. Baldwin reached back into the mythical past and resurrected it very deftly.
I can’t understand how I’d forgotten all about Baldwin, he’s a master storyteller. Weaving an epic tale of two brothers and the burden of what family can be, as well as the refuge and salvation it can sometimes offer. Baldwin gets it all down right and has you trembling inside yourself. This too shall pass and so will you, he booms from the pages beyond the grave. The subject of Death is batted around on the printed page by every author worth their salt (and quite a few who aren’t), but few can match Baldwin, he makes you quake with sorrow at the finality of it.The isolation of every human soul as it desperately fights to live on and make some kind of meaning before the inevitable conclusion, this is Sonny’s Blues. Addiction, death (lots of death), family dynamics, reconciliation, jazz, solitude, are just a few topics Baldwin tackles. I do remember loving this story the first time I read it, and I love it just as much this time, but I think my reasons are very different. When I read it in college, I had so much less compassion for the older brother and felt he didn’t try hard enough to help his younger brother. Back then I believed you could save people from themselves if you tried hard enough and didn’t give up.
“The Art of The Short Story” compiled by Dana Gioia and R S Gwynn, is what reaquainted me with Baldwin. A collection of 52 authors, their short stories and insights on their writing, published in 2006 shouldn’t be missed. It’s a treasure trove for anyone who writes this form of fiction. The selection of writers from all over the world, past and present, male and female, dead and alive, is wonderful. I’m loving it. Reading can be like dreaming while you’re wide awake, and this book is definitely the stuff dreams are made of.