Posted in Books in General

Anniversary the Third!

Today is the third anniversary of Mirror with Clouds!  It’s been an interesting, informative and all around great three years and I’m looking forward to year #4.  It’s become my anniversary tradition to post some of my favorite quotations from the past year – so here they are!

These mystic creatures, suddenly translated by night from unutterable solitudes to our peopled deck, affected me in a manner not easy to unfold.  They seemed newly crawled forth from beneath the foundations of the world.  Yea, they seemed the identical tortoises whereon the Hindu plants this total sphere.  With a lantern I inspected them more closely.  Such worshipful venerableness of aspect!  Such furry greenness mantling the rude peelings and healing the fissures of their shattered shells.  I no more saw three tortoises.  They expanded – became transfigured.  I seemed to see three Roman Coliseums in magnificent decay.

– From Herman Melville’s “The Encantadas” (a reference to the tortoises found on the Encantadas, also known as the Galapagos Islands)

 

In the morning there was a big wind blowing and the waves were running high up on the beach and he was awake a long time before he remembered that his heart was broken.

-From Ernest Hemingway’s “Ten Indians”

 

Something quite remote from anything the builders intended has come out of their work, and out of the fierce little human tragedy in which I played; something none of us thought about at the time: a small red flame – a beaten-copper lamp of deplorable design, relit before the beaten-copper doors of a tabernacle; the flame which the old knights saw from their tombs, which they saw put out; that flame burns again for other soldiers, far from home, farther, in heart, than Acre or Jerusalem.  It could not have been lit but for the builders and the tragedians, and there I found it this morning, burning anew among the old stones.

-From Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited

 

He did not believe that he himself was formed in the image of God but that Bishop was he had no doubt.  The little boy was part of a simple equation that required no further solution, except at the moments when with little or no warning he would feel himself overwhelmed by the horrifying love.  Anything he looked at too long could bring it on.  Bishop did not have to be around.  It could be a stick or a stone, the line of a shadow, the absurd old man’s walk of a starling crossing the sidewalk.  If, without thinking, he lent himself to it, he would feel suddenly a morbid surge of the love that terrified him – powerful enough to throw him to the ground in an act of idiot praise.  It was completely irrational and abnormal.

-From Flannery O’Connor’s The Violent Bear It Away

 

“It’s terrible sometimes, inside,” he said, “that’s what’s the trouble.  You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s not really a living ass to talk to, and there’s nothing shaking, and there’s no way of getting it out – that storm inside.  You can’t talk it and you can’t make love with it, and when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening.  So you’ve got to listen.  You got to find a way to listen.”

-From James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”

 

And then Trout, with his wound dressed, would walk out into the unfamiliar city.  He would meet his Creator, who would explain everything.

-From Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions

 

 

Posted in Short Stories

James Baldwin: Sonny’s Blues

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For Week 46 of my Deal Me In 2014 short story project, I drew my final wild card.  I selected another story from The Oxford Book of American Short Stories, James Baldwin’s “Sonny’s Blues”.  My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here.  DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.

To me, this story is one of the more emotional ones I’ve come across in a while.  I read Baldwin’s novel Go Tell It On The Mountain earlier this year and was blown away by the gut-wrenching passion in his style.  That same passion comes through loud and clear in “Sonny’s Blues”.

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The story starts with the narrator reading in the newspaper about an incident involving drugs and his younger brother, Sonny.  It doesn’t take long for the reader to determine that the older brother is the “responsible” one, an algebra teacher, and the younger one is the musician and perhaps not so “responsible”.  Baldwin perfectly captures the complexity of the brothers’ relationship and the older brother’s distress over the newspaper article:

I was scared, scared for Sonny.  He became real to me again.  A great block of ice got settled in my belly and kept melting there slowly all day long, while I taught my classes algebra.  It was a special kind of ice.  It kept melting, sending trickles of ice water all up and down my veins, but it never got less.  Sometimes it hardened and seemed to expand until I felt my guts were going to come spilling out or that I was going to choke or scream.

The story contains some of the more devastating aspects of the brothers’ family background. Most of it, though, revolves around the older brother’s frustration with the choices of the younger brother.  In some cases, the choices could just be bad choices.  In other cases, they could be the result of Sonny’s artistic temperament or maybe the lack of understanding on the part of his family for that temperament.  What does it cost Sonny to be an artist? His health, his sanity, his soul?

“It’s terrible sometimes, inside,” he said, “that’s what’s the trouble.  You walk these streets, black and funky and cold, and there’s not really a living ass to talk to, and there’s nothing shaking, and there’s no way of getting it out – that storm inside.  You can’t talk it and you can’t make love with it, and when you finally try to get with it and play it, you realize nobody’s listening.  So you’ve got to listen.  You got to find a way to listen.”

An amazing aspect of this story is Baldwin’s ability to get inside the heads of both of these brothers.  It makes me wonder which character Baldwin related to the most.  The mind of an artist and the struggles that take place within that mind is a fascinating topic to me.  I think this story has now taken the spot of favorite for the year.