If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
“If Beale Street Could Talk” by James Baldwin is a soft story about a woman and her family trying to get her wrongly accused fiance out of jail. Though I’ve only read one other Baldwin work — “Just Above My Head,” this one pales in comparison with less passion and pain and thought-provoking moments.
Tish and Fonny plan to get married and have already found a place to live after so many rejections due to racism in 1970s New York City. But Fonny is unexpectedly jailed for a rape he says he didn’t commit. His religious mother refuses to help him get out of jail while his alcoholic father can’t seem to get his life in order to help his son. So that leaves Tish and her family to stand up for Fonny, especially when Tish learns she’s pregnant.
The urgency of the time is missing. The story is told from Tish’s point of view, but what you expect to happen does happen. The racism is unsurprising when it comes to Tish and Fonny’s previous encounters with police to where they are with their legal troubles. But the story unfortunately has become timely. It’s similar to “American Marriage” by Tayari Jones, though that story too did not reach its full potential. With “Just Above My Head” — a totally different story, I still think of those characters and what they were enduring in that story. It was that powerful, so I expected an encore reaction with another well-known Baldwin work, but I didn’t get that. I won’t be thinking of Tish and Fonny like Roy and Celestial failed to make an impression.
Overall, it’s a love story of a young Black couple in a time of racism yet what they experience doesn’t deter their love nor do they advance from that experience.