Posted in Short Stories

James Baldwin: The Outing

Deal Me In 2021 – Week 8

Something about James Baldwin’s short story “The Outing” reminds me of Agatha Christie’s Death on the Nile only it would be more like “Salvation on the Hudson”. There’s no murder and not really any mystery but there are numerous characters with numerous back stories all riding up the Hudson River on a tour boat for a church outing.

The adults all seem to have this church thing down while the teenage boys aren’t so sure they want to be like their supposed role-models.

Yet their bodies continued to change and grow, preparing them, mysteriously and with ferocious speed, for manhood. No matter how careful their movements, these movements suggested, with a distinctness dreadful for the redeemed to see, the pagan lusting beneath the blood-washed robes. In them was perpetually and perfectly poised the power of revelation against the power of nature; and the saints, considering them with a baleful kind of love, struggled to bring their souls to safety in order, as it were, to steal a march on the flesh while the flesh still slept. A kind of storm, infernal, blew over the congregation as they passed; someone cried, ‘Bless them, Lord!’ and immediately, honey-colored Sister Russell, while they knelt in prayer, rose to her feet to testify.

It’s interesting that Baldwin’s sympathies are mostly with the teenagers but he doesn’t completely right off the adults even if he doesn’t hesitate to emphasize their periodic hypocrisies. Baldwin at least appears to understand that the church had a cultural impact that had some benefits even if he “outgrew” some of the specifics in the same manner in which the teenage boys in the story might be.

This story is included in Baldwin’s collection Going To Meet The Man. I read it when I selected the Ace of Hearts for Week 8 of my Deal Me In 2021 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In list here. Deal Me In is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

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