No doubt, James Baldwin had a mastery of the English language. There is a lilt to his words that echoes the classics of literature. With its religious theme, Go Tell It on the Mountain nearly comes across seamlessly as another testament of the Bible. I believe this was Baldwin's intention, but if not he succeeded without trying. Though the tone emulates the best of the Biblical narrative, it rarely gets bogged down by the parts that are best skimmed. There is poetry in these pages, though the format is strictly narrative.
As a reader, however, my attention was lost in the massive section of backstory placed in the middle of the story; backstory that takes up over half of the entire novel. Now, I'm not a flashback hater. I have no issue with backstory if it is implemented well. But the backstory in Go Tell It on the Mountain goes on much too long and isn't completely necessary for the story of young John. Sure, it gives some indication of what John was born into and how he's been shaped, but it doesn't forward his story; it only sets the foundation. The story of John is packed so deeply in the story of his family and buried beneath Biblical allegory that I felt, in the end, I didn't know John. And that's unfortunate because John seemed like he might have been an interesting individual.
I hate not enjoying a classic, especially one with so much of importance to say, but I failed to find the story here. Go Tell It on the Mountain is a beautiful hymn that is likely a prelude to a compilation of many wonderful works. I recognize Baldwin's talent, but I think he spent too much time in the past with this novel. I want to see a more forward-thinking Baldwin. Judging by his life, I know he had it in him; I just need to find the work that exemplifies this character.