Talkin Bout Sonny by Toni Cade Bambara, 1967
The magic trick:
Using a shocking incident to outline different feelings and philosophies within a group of friends
Great New York City story here. We go to the playground basketball courts of Brooklyn. But the story is not fun and games. Far from it. It’s pretty harrowing. Sonny, one of the narrator’s group of friends, has killed his wife. Suddenly and without any apparent reason. “Something came over me,” is all he can say.
So the story is two friends discussing the situation, trying to figure out why this could have happened. Delauney is the key character. He is annoyed by the entire premise. He rejects the idea that there needs to be a discussion at all. He is working hard to normalize Sonny’s behavior, lashing out at friends.
While it’s clearly a strong premise, a lesser writer could very easily subject it to preaching or painfully obvious points. This character is stand-in for this take; that character is there to preach this point of view. It’s a story setup that lends itself to a simplistic treatment.
But this story is nothing like that at all. Bambara sidesteps every potential pitfall. This feels very real. The characters feel like people. Their confusion and anger is nuanced. There are ideas kicked around – including a suggestion of misogyny – that produces themes larger than the plight of these four characters.
Essentially, it’s a really, really amazing story.
And that’s quite a trick on Bambara’s part.
“Oh hell, Betty, let’s not start that up again. Look, Sonny’s a grown man and you’re not his mother. Matter of fact, you ain’t nobody’s mother, and I wish to hell you’d cut out this nursery-school-marm shit. Man,” he told the window pane, “women get on my ass. Truly.”
“Is that why you spend so much time with the boys? Boys, my foot. I wish you could see yourselves, big overgrown dudes running around in sneakers hustling kids for nickels and dimes. It’s sickening. Delauney, when are you going to grow up?”
“Now, look,” finger in my face and eyes slit, “the last chick that started in with that shit get her behind put out on the sidewalk with nothing but a handful of change to get her home to mother. And that was my wife. And if I don’t take that crap from my own wife, you know I ain’t going to put – ”
“You don’t have to. This is my apartment, remember?”
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