Metro Reco: Sonny's Blues
Sorry about the lack of book reviews around lately, but I haven’t read a novel in weeks. My short story course finishes up in a couple of weeks and I hope to hit some new novels (and the Harry Potter!) before next term starts. But I did read a magical, beautiful short story, one I will highly recommend (I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—read more short stories!).
Short stories often focus on one theme, an epiphany, a moral or lesson. “Sonny’s Blues”, by James Baldwin has the depth and breadth of a novel with the lyricism of a short story. It’s a story about many things: the black experience in North America, the relationship between brothers, coping with pain, drug addiction, finding salvation through art. Baldwin says a lot with few words.
In a magnificent passage the narrator watches his brother perform for the first time. Incredibly evocative, Baldwin captures the magic and collaboration as jazz musicians riff off each other to create something divine. Here’s a passage:
Sonny began to play. Something began to happen. And Creole let out the reins. The dry, low, black man said something awful on the drums, Creole answered, and the drums talked back. Then the horn insisted, sweet and high, slightly detached perhaps, and Creole listened, commenting now and then, dry, and driving, beautiful, calm and old. Then they all came together again, and Sonny was part of the family again. I could tell this from his face. He seemed to have found, right there, beneath his fingers, a damn brand-new piano. It seemed that he couldn't get over it. Then, for a while, just being happy with Sonny, they seemed to be agreeing with him that brand-new pianos certainly were a gas.
Then Creole stepped forward to remind them that what they were playing was the blues. He hit something in all of them, he hit something in me, myself, and the music tightened and deepened, apprehension began to beat the air. Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything very new. 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 must always be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness.
Baldwin hit something in me. I highly, highly recommend "Sonny’s Blues". I think it’s one of the best things I’ve ever read.