James Baldwin’s short story “The Rockpile” was the story I wanted to read for my birthday last month; however, it took longer than I expected to get a copy of Baldwin’s collection Going to Meet the Man. I finally got it and I figure better late than never.
“The Rockpile” involves the same characters from Baldwin’s novel Go Tell It On the Mountain. In that novel, character’s are given their own sections for their story or point of view that tie together in the present time. In this short story, we also get varying points of view but because it’s not a novel, the narration jumps between characters and an author of Baldwin’s caliber makes these jumps work.
The sense of family dysfunction comes through loud and clear as each member old enough has some sort of resentment, some need for forgiveness, some need for redemption:
And she found in his face not fury alone, which would not have surprised her; but hatred so deep as to become insupportable in its lack of personality. His eyes were struck alive, unmoving, blind with malevolence – she felt, like the pull of the earth at her feet, his longing to witness her perdition.
Whether anyone actually finds what they need isn’t known to the reader – at least not in this story.