‘Going to Meet the Man’ by James Baldwin

Baldwin wrote ably in just about every form available to the writer. To my taste, the stories in Going to Meet the Man represent his greatest accomplishment as a fiction writer. The more famous story (rightly) in the collection is ‘Sonny’s Blues,’ which is a long lament by an upright schoolteacher, or a kind of history of his long love for his heroin-addicted jazzman brother.

‘Going to Meet the Man’ is a riskier story. I think of it as being in conversation with Eudora Welty’s ‘Where Is the Voice Coming From?,’ which appeared just a little earlier, and might well have been written around the same time. Both stories do a thing that was unfashionable then, and which is even more unfashionable now, which is to inhabit the point of view of the person who is monstrously wrong. In Baldwin’s case, the protagonist is a small-town Southern sheriff fresh from another day of violence in the ongoing work of suppressing the forward motion of the Civil Rights movement. It is a tale of sexual repression, racial violence, and scary marital power dynamics. Baldwin is unflinching and unsentimental, and the story, which leaves the reader icy cold, gets there in the most scorching manner possible.

from Going to Meet the Man, Dial Press, 1965/Penguin Modern Classics, 1991

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