'Few, it seems to me, have driven their words with such passion' Guardian
How our earliest experiences can shape our destiny is the theme that runs like a thread of revelation through these extraordinary stories. They explore the roots of love, of murder and of racial conflict, from the child in 'The Rockpile' who can never be forgiven by his God-fearing father for his illegitimacy to the loneliness of a young black girl in love with a white man who, she knows, will leave her in 'Come Out of the Wilderness' and the horrifying story of the initiation of a racist as a man remembers his parents taking him to see the mutilation and murder of a black man in 'Going to Meet the Man'. In them Baldwin unlocks the concepts of history and prejudice and probes beneath the skin to the soul.
With the exception of "The Man Child," a macabre, faintly Lawrentian study of repressed love between two white men in the rural South, all of Baldwin's tales here deal in one form or another with the Negro problem. Technically, a good portion of the work is crude and unconvincing. "Come Out the Wilderness" and "Previous Condition," for example, rest on slight themes: the first concerning a Negro girl's hapless involvement with an opportunistic white Village artist, and the second presenting the frustrations of a Negro actor when he is denied lodgings in a white neighborhood. "This Morning, This Evening, So Soon" is an ironic mood piece, a chronicle of a Negro expatriate in Paris: on the verge of fame and fearful of returning to the states, the singer discovers that his friend, a Tunisian outcast, is not above stealing from people of his own race. "Sonny's Blues" is an over-long, over-loud lament of a doomed jazz musician who becomes a junkie, ending on a muted moment of recognition between himself and his square brother. "The Rockpile" is a brief , bitter account of children blighted by Harlem family life. The title story is reminiscent of Baldwin's recent play Blues for Mr. Charlie; the white protaganist, a deputy sheriff, is momentarily impotent until aroused by a terrible memory: as a boy, he witnessed, along with his gloating parents and other adults, the brutal castration and burning of an uppity Negro. All of these tales have an undeniable urgency, power and anger, yet only "The Outing" achieves true artistry, probably because it is the most personal and not melodramatic at all. Symphonic in structure, mixing religious and sexual motifs, encompassing various shades of characters and situations against the background of a boat trip up the Hudson, "The Outing" is memorable in every sense; funny, sad, colorful, it is a triumphant performance. (Kirkus Reviews)