‘Talk To The Music’ by Arna Bontemps

Bontemps, Arna 1971

Talk To The Music by Arna Bontemps, 1971

The magic trick:

The single paragraph describing Storyville

It is only one paragraph, but it’s a remarkable description of the Storyville part of New Orleans. It is the part of town where Mayme Dupree sings. The part of town where the blues live. The part of town where the real-world struggle of adult southern black life exists. The part of town where our young narrator, Norman, longs to grow up. One paragraph sums it up brilliantly (especially the part about desire). And that’s quite a trick on Bontemps’s part.

The selection:

The lights were coming on in Storyville as we reached the district, and there was a good bit of going and coming in the streets. Saloons were hitting it up, and in some the tinkle of glasses dissolved into a background of ragtime piano thumping. But the overall mood, as I sensed it, was grim, and furtive shadows moved along the street. Can desire be anything but sad? I wondered as the carriage pulled up beside an ornate hitching post. I jumped out and waited for Mayme to put her foot on a large square-cut steppingstone.

‘No Place For You, My Love’ by Eudora Welty

welty, eudora 1952

No Place For You, My Love by Eudora Welty, 1952

The magic trick:

Evocatively describing the New Orleans countryside to the point where the setting nearly functions as the story’s main character

Welty paints the couple’s drive south of New Orleans in a beautiful, dark light – almost mystical and supernatural. The vividness of the setting is itself spectacular, but it also serves as the story’s crucial conflict. The man and woman seek escape from the constraints of the city and their respective lives, and the rural Louisiana they adventure through provides such a getaway. They just don’t understand how to communicate in this setting or with this setting. The couple is incapable of truly appreciating the foreign setting, or linking this experience with their normal existence.

As a result, I came away from the story thinking less about the couple and the difficult nature of communicated emotions and more about the mysterious sadness shrouding the story’s setting. And that’s quite a trick by Welty.

The selection:

There was water under everything. Even where a screen of jungle had been left to stand, splashes could be heard from under the trees. In the vast open, sometimes boots moved inch by inch through what appeared endless meadows of rubbery flowers.

Her eyes overcome with brightness and size, she felt a panic rise as sudden as nausea. Just how far below questions and answers, concealment and revelation, they were running now – that was still a new question, with a power of its own, waiting. How dear – how costly – could this ride be?