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Whose Song? and Other Stories (Thomas Glave)

April 4, 2010

I read two stories from this collection: “The Final Inning” and “Whose Song?” Both stories deal with the issue of homosexuality within African American culture (here, they’re specifically situated in the Bronx) — but they go about it very differently.

In “The Final Inning,” the formal aspects of Glave’s writing are especially interesting. He uses a lot of parentheticals and colons and dashes in unusual ways as Greg examines his own thoughts, emotions, and sexuality. For example, when Greg reacts against the word “faggots” his thoughts are interrupted by other thoughts (also his), which Glave writes as “couldn’t you keep it downtown with all them downtown faggots ( — :don’t call them that: — ) that came up to the funeral?” (166). Because Greg’s character is in a state of mental and emotional distress throughout this story, these unusual punctuations serve to highlight that distress and his continual mental interruption is expressed through parentheticals and sentence fragments isolated by dashes and the nontraditional use of colons. Greg also makes up words, or combines them (as you will). For instance, his son is of extreme importance to him, and he is described several times throughout the story as holding onto Greg Jr. “tight tighttight” — a repetition and combination of words that focuses down on the action.

In “Whose Song?” the idea of song comes up constantly: a nightbird’s song, a sorrow song, a blue song, a homie’s song, a song unheard, a shadowrain song…the list goes on. Mixed in with all the kinds of songs are all kinds of musical ideas — melodylessness, screaming, singing, etc. The juxtaposition of this musicality with the utterly depressing and dark plot events makes the idea of song — of rising above, of drowning beneath, of bringing the soul out into the air in song — seem fleeting and ungraspable. It also makes the happy moments seem really far away (especially since their songs are described with tender and nostalgic language) and feel like they’re being crushed beneath the weight of the dark moments of the present (which are described with violent and harsh language). It’s a troubling story, a deeply disturbing look at the ways people are damaged and how their pain can be used to damage those who have not been hurt in the same ways…yet.

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