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I see from the number of reviews and the average rating that the majority of readers have had a different opinion of If Beale Street Could talk than myself. For me, it's another classic that failed to live up to the hype. The story, of a young man wrongly accused of a crime by a racist establishment, has the potential for a powerful novel. Unfortunately, in the telling it lacks conviction. Told in first person by the girlfriend of the accused, even when she isn't present, the book does contain some powerful scenes. However, despite being a short novel, both narrative and dialogue have a tendency to ramble into content with little or no relevance to the plot. It's not badly written (obviously!) but these digressions made it tedious in places. My rating would be 2.5, but it's better than a 2, so I've given it 3.
I have mixed feelings about this book. I know, as a black woman who can actually relate to many of the struggles and situation in this book, I should’ve loved it to tears. But I wasn’t that much entertained. The premise is good and real and painful. A black man is put behind bars for raping a woman he’s never seen. And we know that story is real. We know it because we’ve seen it, we have many examples of it during the segregated America. Black boys were lynched, thrown in prison, put on death row because some white woman decided to accuse them of raping her. And of course, the whole judicial system was made to oppress these black boys.
We have a story that’s a little different. A woman was actually raped. She didn’t see the face of her rapist, but it happened, and she didn’t mean to hurt anyone. It kinda reminded me of the exonerated five. And that’s why I liked Ernestine’s lines so much, because she understood the woman who accused Fonny of rape. There’s no victim blaming, although they were in a position were victim blaming would’ve somehow been justified and they would’ve gotten away with it. But they didn’t. Victoria was raped. She didn’t remember who raped her. Detective Bell, a racist policeman, presented Fonny as her rapist, and she just went along. Of course, she was also biased. The detective convinced her that she was raped by a black man, they only put a black man in the room, so she picked him. She wasn’t going to pick the white men in the room, nor the Porto Rican men since she is herself Porto Rican. She chose the black man. Because she wanted it to be over. She didn’t want to think about it anymore, about being raped, about being a victim. Of course, she was destroying the life of an innocent man, but she didn’t know that. It doesn’t make it okay. But I like the fact that some characters in the book actually understood the woman, where she was coming from and her trauma.
I liked some reflection about blackness and racism in this book. Everything is so old, but it still resonates so much with what we see nowadays in America. It’s like it’s happening right now. Not much changed since then. Not much, unfortunately.
It’s said that Joseph has an advantage over Frank. Joseph has daughters. If he had sons, they would be either dead or in jail. You see, I recently heard an African American lady crying because she was expecting a boy. A black boy in that America that hates blackness. Things changed, but did they? “This country hates n******.” “If you aren’t somebody’s n*****, you are a bad n*****.”
Or the scene at the Italian shop where Tish had to put herself between Fonny and the policeman because she knew that he would’ve killed Fonny if she hadn’t been there to protect him.
So, the story itself is very contemporary and real, and that makes it sadder. I felt like I was reading a true story, not a fiction. Still, I didn’t feel what I am supposed to feel when I read a great book. The writing style was average. It was messy and confusing at times, especially in the beginning. Tish is not a very clear narrator. She has a very childish voice. And I don’t know if that’s an author trait, but everybody calls everybody “baby”. The style didn’t convince me. I read the book, that was it. I didn’t feel the emotion, the despair, the fear. It’s still a good premise.
I like James Baldwin! When I read him, I must remember the time period. He was a courageous Black Man who loved his race and culture. This book is still relevant to what is going on in our society today. It is so sad that women and people of color are still dealing with many of these issues today. It is so sad that our current president and the self interest of him and his family have been allowed to take precedence over what's best for this country and it's people. This novel helped me gain some comparative historical vs current perspective on these issues.
I decided to read the book only cause i saw previews of the movie. I just hope the movie is better than the book. I got confused a lot. Wasn't really sure what the purpose of the story was. I don't know. Some parts were really drew me in, others, not so much. The internal dialogue was distracting because of the constant unfinished or overly thought out, thought. It started to become really annoying. Still trying to figure out what the plot of the story was. Maybe I missed it. Anyway, I'm going to see the movie because they have some phenomenal actors in it. Hopefully I can grasp the concept by "seeing" it.
The narrator's voice is really what compels the narrative forward and gives this book it's quality and distinction.
The first 25% of the book is beautiful slice of life from a singular perspective. When the plot really kicks in is when this falters for me. I wanted more there there, more flow. In a way, it feels like Baldwin got sick of writing about the situation he put his characters in.
I expected more. The ending wasn’t clear. I also didn’t like how Tish’s narration changed from an Ebonic type speak to using words that I had to look up I’m a dictionary. I’m still glad I read it but I the ending could have been better.