Pale Wire (Popscene)

Thursday, December 30, 2004

Love Song

I woke up early this morning and finished James Baldwin's novel Another Country.

It's an emotionally brutal book: the story of a half dozen New Yorkers and their tangled, tortured relationships. They each grapple with love, race, success, failure and sex in their own way and, yet, strangely, together.

In a lot of ways it's similar to that movie Closer--except, ya know, it's good.

It opens powerfully, with the story of Rufus Scott, a lonely black bohemian stranded in the world's most merciless city.

He was facing Seventh Avenue, at Times Square. It was past midnight and he had been sitting in the movies, in the top row of the balcony, since two o'clock in the afternoon. Twice he had been awakened by the violent accents of the Italian film, once the usher had awakened him, and twice he had been awakened by caterpillar fingers between his thighs. He was so tired, he had fallen so low, that he scarcely had the energy to be angry; nothing of his belonged to him anymore - you took the best, so why not take the rest? - but he had growled in his sleep and bared the white teeth in his dark face and crossed his legs. Then the balcony was nearly empty, the Italian film was approaching a climax; he stumbled down the endless stairs into the street. He was hungry, his mouth felt filthy. He realised too late, as he passed through the doors, that he wanted to urinate. And he was broke. And he had nowhere to go.

Baldwin offers a grim portrait of his world, one that's often tough to endure. But his prose is so vivid and violent that, like the broken but hungry -- always hungry! -- lovers that populate his novel, I had a hard time not coming back for more.