(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Faces of Blood Kindred” focuses on the relationship between the protagonist and his cousin James, and on two particular incidents that had a deeply felt and lasting effect on the protagonist. The lives of these two boys are shaped by and characteristic of the larger life of their wandering and suffering extended family. The mystery and profundity of blood ties and the essential sadness of human life are two of William Goyen’s primary concerns here and throughout his fiction.

Their story begins as James is coming to stay with the protagonist, who is referred to simply as “the cousin” (both boys are fourteen years old). James’s father ran away long ago, and his mother, crippled by arthritis, is hospitalized and unable to care for him. The two boys have little in common other than “their mysterious cousinhood, a bond of nature that they instinctively respected.” The cousin is timid, obedient, naïve, and sensitive; James, a “faintly hairlipped” stutterer who had owned and loved fighting cocks, is “wild,” “mysterious, wandering,” and fiercely independent. In spite of their differences, the boys get along well. James tolerates his cousin’s timid and fearful nature with tender disdain; the cousin idolizes James for his daring and experience and pities him for his loneliness and isolation.

One afternoon at James’s suggestion, the boys go to a farm at the edge of the city to look at some Cornish fighting cocks raised, trained, bought, and sold (illegally) by a roosterlike man named Chuck. The cousin, drawn by the illicit excitement of the venture, agrees to come, though he is afraid and feels guilty because he “stole away” and“did not tell his mother.” The cousin’s anxiety and awe increase when James counts out fifteen dollars to purchase a “big blue cock with stars on its breast.” He is afraid that they will get into trouble at home, that James will have no place to keep the cock. James assures him that he has a place for the bird, and they hitchhike back to town and go to their grandmother’s great, rambling house, where James intends to hide the cock for a night.

The big, old, rotting house of the grandmother is filled with members of the family and appears to be a desolate...

(The entire section is 922 words.)