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The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories

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A classic work that has charmed generations of readers, this collection assembles Carson McCullers’s best stories, including her beloved novella “The Ballad of the Sad Café.” A haunting tale of a human triangle that culminates in an astonishing brawl, the novella introduces readers to Miss Amelia, a formidable southern woman whose café serves as the town’s gathering place. A classic work that has charmed generations of readers, this collection assembles Carson McCullers’s best stories, including her beloved novella “The Ballad of the Sad Café.” A haunting tale of a human triangle that culminates in an astonishing brawl, the novella introduces readers to Miss Amelia, a formidable southern woman whose café serves as the town’s gathering place. Among other fine works, the collection also includes “Wunderkind,” McCullers’s first published story written when she was only seventeen about a musical prodigy who suddenly realizes she will not go on to become a great pianist. Newly reset and available for the first time in a handsome trade paperback edition, The Ballad of the Sad Café is a brilliant study of love and longing from one of the South’s finest writers.


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A classic work that has charmed generations of readers, this collection assembles Carson McCullers’s best stories, including her beloved novella “The Ballad of the Sad Café.” A haunting tale of a human triangle that culminates in an astonishing brawl, the novella introduces readers to Miss Amelia, a formidable southern woman whose café serves as the town’s gathering place. A classic work that has charmed generations of readers, this collection assembles Carson McCullers’s best stories, including her beloved novella “The Ballad of the Sad Café.” A haunting tale of a human triangle that culminates in an astonishing brawl, the novella introduces readers to Miss Amelia, a formidable southern woman whose café serves as the town’s gathering place. Among other fine works, the collection also includes “Wunderkind,” McCullers’s first published story written when she was only seventeen about a musical prodigy who suddenly realizes she will not go on to become a great pianist. Newly reset and available for the first time in a handsome trade paperback edition, The Ballad of the Sad Café is a brilliant study of love and longing from one of the South’s finest writers.

30 review for The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dolors

    “The Ballad of the Sad Café”, title of the story that gives name to this collection, includes seven short, in some cases, almost minimalistic tales. Each one of them enhances a different aspect of thematic lines recurrent in McCullers’ works: the isolation and the loneliness juxtaposed to selfless love in implausible triangular relationships. What distinguishes these stories from others is the musical quality so idiosyncratic of McCullers’ voice along with the silent incursion of her evenly pace “The Ballad of the Sad Café”, title of the story that gives name to this collection, includes seven short, in some cases, almost minimalistic tales. Each one of them enhances a different aspect of thematic lines recurrent in McCullers’ works: the isolation and the loneliness juxtaposed to selfless love in implausible triangular relationships. What distinguishes these stories from others is the musical quality so idiosyncratic of McCullers’ voice along with the silent incursion of her evenly paced words into the minds of her figurative, and often outlandish, characters. The inner lives of these protagonists shape the dismal world they inhabit, breathing life into a reality that seems more feasible than if obtained from direct, plain observation or detailed description. And so the line separating fiction from reality softens, the vision becomes illumination, and maybe through exaggeration, maybe through the projection of a profoundly poetic prose, McCullers creates a universe built on ambiguity where melancholy abounds and an impending sense of loss intoxicates the senses of the reader. Following the tune of an unhurried narrative; characters are introduced, stripped naked, given distinctive traits that stir the lethargic child still hidden inside us who eagerly awaits to be swept off his feet by the end of a fantastic tale. But McCullers’ ballads turn out to be composed for an adult public, for there is nothing tender or childish in the succession of desperate voices that sing to the stigmatized, the rejected, the abandoned who feed off their past failures and unrequited love. And so the sound of picks falling on stone marks the rhythm that unfolds the story of Miss Amelia, the androgynous owner of the Café that is built upon her irrational devotion to her cousin Lymon, a destitute hunchback whose eyes bask on Marvin Macy’s handsome features. Beethoven’s Sonata No. 12 marks the end of Bienchen’s future as a child prodigy with the piano in Wunderkind while Bach’s prelude and fugue plays as a redeeming melody that allows The Sojourner to make peace with a lost love that still burns his soul in silence. The tapping of raindrops on a forgotten streetcar café sets the pace for the story of a vagrant who has taught himself to love A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud with utter selflessness, a “science” that might alter the course of the life of a newspaper delivery boy for good. The micro-cosmos of the solitary singer expands and soaks the mood of the casual bystander, who can’t help but remain glued to the desolate voices that interweave in a fugue of mismatched glances that search each other in vain. McCullers’ characters sing in an adult world erected on cheated innocence, a lot of whisky and barren lands where loneliness is the only thing left after the music stopped playing. Isn’t it incredible, though, that ”the music, catalyst for this tumultuous anarchy, was so serene and clear” and soothed a discomfited reader in spite of the desolate landscape? Not when McCullers is playing.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    As a kind of grotesque fairytale void of a clear moral, The Ballad of the Sad Café isn’t easy to sum up. The novella centers on a love triangle between a wealthy brusque woman, her sleazy ex-husband of ten days recently released from prison, and her hunchbacked cousin who’s new to town. All the characters are coded as queer; most of the action takes place in the titular cloistered cafe, which the woman owns and operates; repressed feelings and bad communication abound. The tale ends with an expl As a kind of grotesque fairytale void of a clear moral, The Ballad of the Sad Café isn’t easy to sum up. The novella centers on a love triangle between a wealthy brusque woman, her sleazy ex-husband of ten days recently released from prison, and her hunchbacked cousin who’s new to town. All the characters are coded as queer; most of the action takes place in the titular cloistered cafe, which the woman owns and operates; repressed feelings and bad communication abound. The tale ends with an explosive brawl that leaves little resolved and raises many questions. The other stories in the collection, slim as they are, also center on the longings and frustrations of misfits, from a would-be musician to a jockey embittered by a loved peer’s catastrophic accident.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Aubrey

    4.5/5 McCullers is one I come to for a reckoning, much as I do with Faulkner and O'Connor. One may bundle them up and slot them neatly under the label of Southern Gothic, but that is not a guaranteed invocation of cathedrals crazed by fecundity of both soil and symptom, an American way of the crooked cross where faith is a matter of lust and amputation. While Faulkner plunges in chiaroscuro and O'Connor sears in holy fire, McCullers sings in the twilight of a human soul, casting back on its years 4.5/5 McCullers is one I come to for a reckoning, much as I do with Faulkner and O'Connor. One may bundle them up and slot them neatly under the label of Southern Gothic, but that is not a guaranteed invocation of cathedrals crazed by fecundity of both soil and symptom, an American way of the crooked cross where faith is a matter of lust and amputation. While Faulkner plunges in chiaroscuro and O'Connor sears in holy fire, McCullers sings in the twilight of a human soul, casting back on its years in search and always, always, coming up short. She is calmer than her two compatriots, but peace does not entail redemption. These stories are short, and I am not surprised that my favorite, Wunderkind, was composed at the age of seventeen. It's a common thing, the vicarious living of the parent through the child, the sapling broken before it even began along lines of another's making, for intelligence and art and college and any number of reasons but the one encompassing what it is the child actually wants, or dreams, or needs. When the body ripens and the mind begins to wander beyond the closed circuit court of parental promises of wealth and fame and glory, it's no wonder that the machine begins to break. But the child does not know that. What a child does know is their failure is made purely out internal system of self, and one way or another, breaking out or breaking down, they will escape. This is a tale that the median of youth and maturity knows, especially when one is Carson McCullers at seventeen. While that was my favorite, the rest are well worth it. All are a matter of living with those insanities we humans willingly inflict, for living is a must what with self-killing labeled as one of the more wicked sins. In the midst of souls and the relationships they wield as pitchforks, the damnation they deal is matched only by the bounty they reap, much as the sick sloth of Southern swamp and all its dead can only be graced by golden sunsets, etched into art by sprawling trees and more precious to the earth than all of humanity. The world bears us much as we bear our woes, a day by day of nearing and furthering reconciliation with too long a past to hope that sudden extinction would lead to instantaneous peace. Some moments are of utmost beauty, some are fit to kill, and one adapts accordingly. The world may grant us sanctuary, but it does not understand us, and will not miss us when we are gone. McCullers has no concrete structure for us to dwell in forevermore; what she does for us is feel.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Fionnuala

    Note: This review should have been posted under the title The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. I will repost if there - but I'll leave it here too in order to retain the comments. In any case, the two books share themes and the titles could easily be inverted. There is a sad café at the centre of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and the book could easily be described as a ballad. In The Ballad of the Sad Café, the main character, café owner Amelia Evans, is a lonely and alone person whose heart is desperate Note: This review should have been posted under the title The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. I will repost if there - but I'll leave it here too in order to retain the comments. In any case, the two books share themes and the titles could easily be inverted. There is a sad café at the centre of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and the book could easily be described as a ballad. In The Ballad of the Sad Café, the main character, café owner Amelia Evans, is a lonely and alone person whose heart is desperately hunting for someone, anyone, to love. ………………………………… I've been reading Carson McCullers for the last month. I started with The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter and then picked up each of the five other books she's written one after the other leaving myself no time in between to think about what I've read or consider writing a review. Today, I'm glad that I didn't attempt a review of this one because I just came across a piece in the sixth book, The Mortgaged Heart: Selected Writings, entitled Author's Outline of 'The Mute' (later published as 'The Heart is a Lonely Hunter'). McCullers' own words describe her intentions for this book so clearly that I'm going to use them in lieu of a review: ....The general outline of this work can be expressed very simply. It is the story of five isolated, lonely people in their search for expression and spiritual integration with something greater than themselves. One of these five is a deaf man, John Singer - and it is around him that the whole book pivots. Because of their loneliness these other four people see in the mute a certain mystic superiority and he becomes in a sense their ideal. Because of Singer's infirmity his outward character is vague and unlimited. His friends are able to impute to him all the qualities which they would wish for him to have. Each of the these four people creates his understanding of the mute from his own desires...In his eternal silence there is something compelling. Each one of these persons makes the mute the repository for his most personal feelings and ideas... This situation between the four people and the mute has an exact parallel in the relation between Singer and his deaf-mute friend, Antonopoulos. Singer is the only person who could attribute to Antonopoulos dignity and a certain wisdom... About this central idea there is much of the quality of a legend. All the parts dealing directly with Singer are written in the simple style of a parable. Before the reasons why this situation came about can be fully understood it is necessary to know each of the principal characters in some detail. But the characters cannot be described adequately without the events which happen to them being involved. Nearly all the happenings in the book spring directly from the characters. During the space of this book each person is shown in his strongest and most typical actions. Of course it must be understood that none of these personal characteristics are told in the didactic manner in which they are set down here. They are implied in one successive scene after another - and it is only at the end, when the sum of of these implications is considered, that the real characters are understood in all of their deeper aspects.... Carson McCullers then goes on to describe her plot and characters in great detail before finishing with some notes about time, place and structure. I was very interested to see that she had a musical structure in mind because I'd experienced the book in musical terms even as I was reading it. This is how she describes the structure: The form is contrapuntal throughout. Like a voice in a fugue each one of the main characters is an entirety in himself - but his personality takes on a new richness when contrasted and woven in with the other characters in the book. One of the other interesting things that emerged for me is the amount of material she eventually left out of this novel. Because I've read all of her novels and most of her stories at this point, I realise that she recycled some of those deleted scenes. Characters' names and circumstances have also been recycled which makes reading all of her work together extra rewarding. The reader begins to see the entire cast of characters as part of one big family and all of her themes as being connected. She is always writing, in one way or another, about inner isolation and the battle to overcome it.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Paquita Maria Sanchez

    You know those authors; just when you think you've begun to catch your footing running up the landslide that is all the books and authors you want to read, someone trips you up by mentioning, I don't know, "Carson McCullers," and suddenly you're all shaky-clenched fists and "durmurt, foiled again!" Well, (not Johnny) Carson (not Daily) McCullers, I know a bit about you now, and I think I could love you. *We have lost soul losers who keep on losing. *Not everyone is completely hollowed out by cycl You know those authors; just when you think you've begun to catch your footing running up the landslide that is all the books and authors you want to read, someone trips you up by mentioning, I don't know, "Carson McCullers," and suddenly you're all shaky-clenched fists and "durmurt, foiled again!" Well, (not Johnny) Carson (not Daily) McCullers, I know a bit about you now, and I think I could love you. *We have lost soul losers who keep on losing. *Not everyone is completely hollowed out by cyclical defeat and largely self-created and perpetuated doom, but most are because get real, amIright? *That fork in the road? Yeah, wrong way. I don't even have to look up and see which way you're going, because just no. *Don't do that. *Don't worry, everybody does that at one point or another. *Seriously, stop it. *Whiskey? This collection as a whole is like a panoramic view of a chipped wooden dive bar, with each story another sad sack with a heavy past clinging to his or her neck, head down, choking. The once-great artist, burnt out before adulthood; the dissatisfied, lonely housewife who has taken to the bottle in secret; the profound sadness of the pathological liar's psychosis; the old drunken man who has used his obsessive meditations on one particularly acute heartbreak to figure out that humans are doing love wrong, and that they should actually first become slowly and deeply smitten with all the commonplace things around them (A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud) before daring to take on another human being. "They start at the wrong end of love. They begin at the climax. Can you wonder it is so miserable?" For me, McCullers is just the right blend of hopelessness and hope. I look forward to our second date. Until then, I will try my best to love wholly and small. No promises.

  6. 4 out of 5

    PattyMacDotComma

    3.5★ “But the new pride that the café brought to this town had an effect on almost everyone, even the children. For in order to come to the café you did not have to buy the dinner, or a portion of liquor.” McCullers tells a good story, but some are not quite enough story. I wanted a bit more! The title story is a novella, and I really enjoyed it. Generally, I'm quite happy with a short vignette, but these didn't always give me enough. This was written in 1951, when a 6’2” (188cm) woman would have b 3.5★ “But the new pride that the café brought to this town had an effect on almost everyone, even the children. For in order to come to the café you did not have to buy the dinner, or a portion of liquor.” McCullers tells a good story, but some are not quite enough story. I wanted a bit more! The title story is a novella, and I really enjoyed it. Generally, I'm quite happy with a short vignette, but these didn't always give me enough. This was written in 1951, when a 6’2” (188cm) woman would have been a big girl, indeed. Miss Amelia grew up in this small town, had a home, ran a still and a store, and was a shrewd negotiator as well as a skilled, self-taught doctor. But she kept to herself and didn’t like people much. One day, a handsome man got under her guard and she married him, but that didn’t last. “. . . that spring she cut up his Klansman's robe to cover her tobacco plants.” She seemed incapable of human warmth (my words) until a strange little hunchbacked man turned up claiming to be some sort of cousin. He moved in and became a popular, entertaining fellow. As people began to hang around the store to visit with him, she decided to open a café to sell drinks and eventually meals. This was a very poor rural town in two ways: little money to spend, and nowhere to spend it if you had it. The café made a huge difference, whether or not you had money. “But the new pride that the café brought to this town had an effect on almost everyone, even the children. For in order to come to the café you did not have to buy the dinner, or a portion of liquor. Everyone was proud to be going out to dinner or going to the café for a drink because the wife wouldn't allow moonshine in the house. . . . Miss Amelia had a drink called Cherry Juice which sold for a penny a glass, . . The people in the town were likewise proud when sitting at the tables in the café . . . for a few hours at least, the deep bitter knowing that you are not worth much in this world could be laid low." While business is booming, who should darken her door again? Right. Her Ex. How he ingratiates himself with the cousin while poisoning her relationship until there’s a final showdown is certainly sad indeed. I expect this novella made more of an impact when it was written than it would today, but the sense of the difference one person or one business can mean to a small community is perfectly described here. Without Miss Amelia, what is anyone to do? Even her excellent moonshine is gone! The other short stories vary from that of a young girl studying the piano to a jockey dealing with fat-cat owners to a man who figured out how to choose whom or what he would love rather than leave it to nature, as most people do, because that had broken his heart. I read this because it’s one of the oldest books on my list, and I’m glad I did.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Brina

    This year has primarily been a nonfiction year for me. I have participated in a group nonfiction reading challenge and as such fiction books do not get my team points. It has been half of a year since I picked up a novel and while I have enjoyed the nonfiction challenge and learned much from, something seems to be missing in my reading. I have decided to start small by reintegrating one or two fiction pieces a month back into my reading lineup, beginning with authors who I have previously read s This year has primarily been a nonfiction year for me. I have participated in a group nonfiction reading challenge and as such fiction books do not get my team points. It has been half of a year since I picked up a novel and while I have enjoyed the nonfiction challenge and learned much from, something seems to be missing in my reading. I have decided to start small by reintegrating one or two fiction pieces a month back into my reading lineup, beginning with authors who I have previously read so that there are no surprises to my reading. The first such piece I selected is a novella by an American master writer Carson McCullers. I have savored her classic novels and took this opportunity to read her short piece The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. Like McCullers’ other pieces Sad Cafe takes place in a small, isolated southern town. Amanda Evans is the proprietor of the town general store, and lives alone in a two room flat upstairs. An independent woman, Miss Evans has no significant other to speak of and chooses to dine alone and not invite guests to her home. It is during prohibition, and Evans realizes that there is money to be made by installing a still in her backyard and offering customers drinks. Gradually, the store turned into a cafe with customers coming from miles around for catfish and barbecue meals. Charging little to nothing for her food so that all diners would have a chance to savor it, Miss Evans’ cafe was an instant success. That changed one day with the presence of her cousin, a humpback named Lymon. Miss Evans took pity on him and invited him to live in the second of her two rooms upstairs. The townspeople surmised that they were falling in love and recalled her brief, horrendous ten day marriage to Marvin Macy. An orphan raised in a good home and then gone bad, Macy conquered most of the town’s women and had his heart set on Evans for marriage. Eventually, she agreed but had ulterior motives. Like McCullers other novels, she developed a strong female protagonist in Amanda Evans as she used her wits to overcome Macy, obtaining all of his material possessions in the process. Macy’s true character shined through and the town under Evans leadership settled back into a regular routine, until the appearance of Lymon. As in McCullers other works she writes in a steady prose that has a reader feel as though they are sitting on a front porch. The story of the sad cafe could have been a family tale passed down, with McCullers telling the reader in present tense. Ballad of the Sad Cafe has been a short reintroduction to fiction reading. It is always a treat to read McCullers tales of rural southern communities of years past. Usually there is a twist at the end to keep readers on their toes and it was no different here. I have a goal to read through McCullers works in the next few years as she is a personal favorite. 3.75 stars

  8. 5 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    We have to discuss the plot here, so total spoilers are included here. Forgive the blunt language here, but this seems to be a story about very confused gay people living in a teeny town in the back of beyond. Please note – every other novel is about confused straight people. There is no stigma in being confused. But these Sad Café types are really confused. We begin with Amelia Evans, 6 feet 2 inches, powerfully built, likes to wear men’s clothing and smokes a pipe, doesn’t like men – I was gett We have to discuss the plot here, so total spoilers are included here. Forgive the blunt language here, but this seems to be a story about very confused gay people living in a teeny town in the back of beyond. Please note – every other novel is about confused straight people. There is no stigma in being confused. But these Sad Café types are really confused. We begin with Amelia Evans, 6 feet 2 inches, powerfully built, likes to wear men’s clothing and smokes a pipe, doesn’t like men – I was getting the picture, this woman is a lesbian. Carson McCullers leaves that implied but unsaid, but you couldn’t imply it any harder without breaking your typewriter. That said, she only has relationships with men. But they aren’t what is generally meant by the word. So she has a ten day marriage with a guy named Marvin Macy, a handsome bad ass mean minded varmint of a rattlesnake. He finds out after they get married that she doesn’t take kindly to being touched. A groom is in a sorry fix when he is unable to bring his well-beloved bride to bed with him, and when the whole town knows it. It could be that Marvin is a closet case, marrying another closet case. He’s a most handsome guy and he falls for the most mannish woman in the county. Hmmm. Car crash marriages like this pop up in Reflections in a Golden Eye (she had a such a great way with titles) and – indeed – in Carson’s own crazy life. Anyway, he winds up in prison for ten years, leaving Amelia contentedly alone until a grotesque figure lurches into town, a four foot tall hunchback (her word, her word) called Lymon who claims to be her cousin. What do you know, she likes him – she even loves him, to the amazement of all, and together they transform the general goods store she runs into the café of the title, and everyone has a nice time drinking bootleg and speculating on what goes on upstairs until with the inevitability of High Noon Marvin gets released and comes back to town to haunt everybody with black clouds of barely held back violence. What happens then is really pretty weird. In order to clear the air, Amelia and Marvin, having circled each other and growled a lot, decide to have a formal boxing match, with the public invited. Well, that is one way to sort out a simmering dispute. Usually not the way it’s done between married people. The boxing for most couples is confined to the private sphere, and unhappily tends towards the Mike Tyson first round knockout. This boxing match is quite different as the parties are evenly matched. Eventually Amelia is just about to deliver the final victorious blow to the supine Marvin when At the instant Miss Amelia grasped the throat of Marvin Macy the hunchback sprang forward and sailed through the air as though he had grown hawk wings. He landed on the broad back of Miss Amelia and clutched at her neck with his clawed little fingers. … Because of the hunchback the fight was won by Marvin Macy and at the end Miss Amelia lay sprawled on the floor, her arms flung outward and motionless. And then, once the crowd has left the café, Marvin and Lymon proceed to trash the place, and they leave together, never to be seen again. It turns out that the real romance was between the handsome guy and the dwarf (about 20 years later a similar relationship could be seen in the movie Midnight Cowboy). Maybe this is some kind of religious allegory. Could be Amelia is Jesus, Marvin is the Catholic Church, and Cousin Lymon is the Protestant church. I dunno, that’s just off the top of my head. Probably wrong.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    The title novella's Miss Amelia, with her way of dressing and behaving, had me wondering at first if she might be a grown-up Frankie (from The Member of the Wedding), though perhaps Miss Amelia hasn't grown up, at least not in the conventional sense; and unconventional is certainly the word for the story's love triangle. The omniscient narrator's (balladeer's?) riffs on the lover and the beloved had me thinking of Proust, though the straightforward prose couldn't be more different from his. The m The title novella's Miss Amelia, with her way of dressing and behaving, had me wondering at first if she might be a grown-up Frankie (from The Member of the Wedding), though perhaps Miss Amelia hasn't grown up, at least not in the conventional sense; and unconventional is certainly the word for the story's love triangle. The omniscient narrator's (balladeer's?) riffs on the lover and the beloved had me thinking of Proust, though the straightforward prose couldn't be more different from his. The main character of "Wunderkind", a story written when McCullers was 17 and showing the promise that would come to fruition with her first novel, is named Frances, leading me back to Frankie, as Frances is Frankie's given name as well. In "Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland" the former is tall, something I was starting to see as a given with McCullers' females, in the same way "The Jockey" continues the characterization started off with Cousin Lymon in "Ballad" of very short males. The stories set in New York -- "The Sojourner" and "A Domestic Dilemma" -- remind me of an early short story by William Maxwell called "Homecoming" (1938). Along with "Ballad", most of these stories depict the illogical impossibility of love with its inherent loneliness: the final story, "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud", offers a possible, though unlikely, solution to the universal predicament of pain-filled, unrequited love.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Mariel

    She felt that the marrows of her bones were hollow and there was no blood left in her. Her heart that had been springing against her chest all afternoon felt suddenly dead. She saw it gray and limp and shriveled at the edges like an oyster. His face seemed to throb out in space before her, come closer with the lurching motion in the veins of his temples. In retreat, she looked down at the piano. Her lips shook like jelly and a surge of noiseless tears made the white keys blur in a watery line. 'I She felt that the marrows of her bones were hollow and there was no blood left in her. Her heart that had been springing against her chest all afternoon felt suddenly dead. She saw it gray and limp and shriveled at the edges like an oyster. His face seemed to throb out in space before her, come closer with the lurching motion in the veins of his temples. In retreat, she looked down at the piano. Her lips shook like jelly and a surge of noiseless tears made the white keys blur in a watery line. 'I can't,' she whispered. 'I don't know why, but I just can't- can't any more. I felt like telling myself about The Ballad of the Sad Cafe before I had continued it to the end of story life. The kind of telling to yourself to love a little more, get closer, as if it knew you too. I don't know, I really didn't want to move inside myself to get there. What I wanted was for someone to come get me. The telling to yourself is necessary to feel known, I feel, and I'm afraid is true. Carson McCullers I have known to hold up to me what I am feeling when I feel like there is no hope of anything ever coming to get me. Since I was fourteen and read The Member of the Wedding for the first time. My rawest, at a total loss to myself times I refer to myself as my "The Member of the Wedding times". You can't be pretty, you can't come along, you will be left behind, you can't bring yourself either. No, you don't even remember how to ask anymore. My enduring spiteful ghost is "The Heart is the Lonely Hunter times". No music in my head, and even Aesop Rock couldn't touch my grotesque spiritual flesh. It would be an unsentenced prison. My "The Member of the Wedding times" terrify me because I feel that the worst thing that could ever happen to me is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. It is the next page. There's nothing your head to tell yourself. Ever again. That she wrote these books and understood me helped me because it earwormed me and told me all about them and I didn't have to be me alone. Okay, so favorite books I am afraid to "have" again in case they don't work anymore. Time traveled and someone stopped the butterflies wings in flight. Still, there's something to be said for what has always been there for you. Nothing does it better for me than music I had when I was young. Last summer I read McCuller's Clock Without Hands and I didn't feel it at all. I was worried to turn to her again but it just worked out that way. I found myself reading her short stories with my mouth full of words I wanted her to tell me instead of me telling me. Life could become one long dim scramble just to get the things needed to keep alive. And the confusing point is this: All useful things have a price, and are bought only with money, as that is the way the world is run. You know without having to reason about it the price of a bale of cotton, or a quart of molasses. But no value has been put on human life; it is given to us free and taken without being paid for. What is it worth? If you look around, at times the value may seem to be little or nothing at all. Often after you have sweated and tried and things are not better for you, there comes a feeling deep down in the soul that you are not worth much. McCullers writes with a fairytale logic. I love fairy tales when they are over. Not the defeat, though. The fairy dust that hovers over everything else, like a promise of the wolf down the road or the witch in the oven, unsettled. Things will happen. Stories written like fairytales I have a problem with. This is this is this is that. They pretty much bore the crap out of me, not to mention that gilded cage of boredom that I call to myself "Trapped in a fabric store with my mother when I was young and I couldn't leave for HOURS". Someone is in your head telling you THIS will happen. It's not dust it has a whole gingerbread shape with a door and windows and a fence. I didn't get into the idea of the sad cafe at all. There are doors and windows and the premises belong to someone. Come here and don't belong to you. That's why they like this cafe. The outside belongs to someone but she doesn't call it hers. Call it something and call it a fairy tale. No, don't tell it like that! Miss Amelia has a hard stone face. Miss Amelia wins because she has money and she can say no like she means it. Miss Amelia could have won forever if she always said no. Read my lips they are the same page and they go nowhere and tell you nothing ever. Her so-called cousin Lymon the hunchbacked little man comes to town and causes trouble by looking from one towns person to the other. His page says something that causes excitement and unease. I didn't feel his mischief, really. I liked the townspeople that gave the benefit of the doubt. They didn't want to whisper words of something awful that could have happened. They would have helped if they could. These were walls made of moveable dust and I could live there. The Hunchback started to look like a monster in my mind. Like they weren't real people. I had his look in my mind that he could have done a pathetic whine to get under your skin. He is actually envious of Miss Amelia's first ten day wed groom. The kind of guy that inexplicably changes his tiger stripes to love the winner who wins if they always said no. If it was a fairytale without an ending, anyway. Her legs were closed and on them he was walked out the door. So the hunchback was envious because he had been to the prison in Atlanta. It may or may not have been the prison that I got lost and wound up by the front gates. It was in a residential neighborhood (quite a poor one). I couldn't stop thinking about if the inmates could see into the lit up windows of the houses below. The aching envy for those rooms, those lights that could not go away. What kind of a hunchback envies the inmate unless it is a getting the worst of it over with, if your conviction was a humorless gallows. He follows in Miss Amelia's footsteps. Maybe his conviction was a permanent no. I didn't feel him in my steps. I started to feel the story in the spaces of the couple of townsfolk who wanted something better. But the monster whine and shut up doors were louder than the cafe and I wonder why that is the setting when I can't see that as what they wanted. It's the no, right? I start to tell myself about what Miss Amelia could have wanted when her lips said maybe yes, for a time, to the hunchback and Marvin Macy. My favorite stories were Wunderkind and Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland. I loved this from 'Finland': Her eyes were wide open, doomed, and proud. And Mr. Brook felt suddenly like a murderer. A great commotion of feelings- understanding, remorse, and unreasonable love- made him cover his facec with his hands. He could not speak until this agitation in his insides quieted down, and then he said very faintly, 'Yes. Of course. The king of Finland. And was he nice?' Madame Zilensky tells lies. Preposterous lies that have no gain apparent to the naked eye. So he strips her bare. The leftovers are a dying. They weren't lies. (I always favored George Costanza's lying seminar. "It's not a lie- if YOU believe it.") Mr. Brook imagines their music teacher pouring her life into her symphonies, with nothing to spare. She imagined other lives. Two eyes like feet on different sides of true and false. She can live both at the same time. It is almost true. Pushing one back over the line would kill her. An out of soul with nowhere to return. I don't know but I really loved that he saw her dying and tried to pull back. I loved the instant regret even more than I loved those couple of townspeople who couldn't try to imagine Miss Amelia was a murderess. The man said slowly. 'I love you.' All along the counter the men laughed. The boy, who had scowled and sidled away, did not know what to do. He looked over the counter at Leo, and Leo watched him with a weary, brittle jeer. The boy tried to laugh also. But the man was serious and sad. 'A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud' is another cafe. The old man has lost his love, a woman he called Dodo. She completed him and every thing anyone ever said about love that you didn't feel because you didn't know them. An abstraction, a tree's shadow on your shade that looks like something else. A cloud as a bunny rabbit, maybe, or a stone's thrown in a blank pool. "I love you," he'd tell you and you would sit in the cafe, maybe, and feel helpless and someone else would tell him to shut up already. He is lost without something. I thought about my brother hating his bar-tending job after the recession started dipping harder and harder. Everyone cries into their drinks and you have to look at them, have to say something. He tells you he loves you and what does he want back? You can't give it to him. 'Wunkderkind' reminded me a little of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. When she cries over her father giving her an egg to eat. The out of life feeling when you don't want to eat anything. She imagines hiding the sounds of the chocolate bar wrapping during the school day. I have forgotten to eat most days of this week myself. I know the feeling. It's a disquieted gut feeling and what you are hungry for isn't food. The unhealthy stomach travels to the other bones in a school sing song ballad. She's a musical prodigy, or at least they always say she is, or she just thinks they said it about her. The echo is around like food you can't eat and you are always hungry. The hunger extends and nothing fills and she runs out into the street in the wrong direction. Home is probably going to be the wrong kind of food too. Last year I read that McCullers waited on the doorstep of Djuna Barnes (I loved Nightwood too). She did not shout down from her window, the door did not open for her. Take me with you didn't happen, I guess. I know it didn't but I can't hear the words past what I call waiting for hours for something good to happen time moves too damned slowly when it never does happen. I wanted to say something to her in the past. Something like "No, don't do that! Don't wait for her! Get up!" I don't like anyone not reaching out to her. This has stayed in my mind whenever I think of McCullers... I wonder if anyone ever wanted to be Carson McCullers (probably over the literary acclaim and all of the depressing "She wrote that when she was 23!" hand clapping applause that doesn't take you by the hand to lead you anywhere). I have this feeling about these stories of people wanting to be someone else. I wonder if anyone ever wanted to be me. My nemesis the turtle said he wouldn't wish me on his worst enemy because I can't eat anything that tastes good. Turtle is so right. I like the tastes of words on the tongue, telling about stuff. What am I eating, though? I want to talk about love like about what the old man looked like when he was talking about love to that young boy. Wish for something better for Miss Amelia. Say you don't have to be a Wunderkind. It's not going to be "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter Times" if you don't feel the music like you really, really mean it as you play. There's something else you can pick up. For her I see her watching her teacher. He spontaneously crouches beside her, outside of the unnatural lights, inside his own space. It's because she doesn't have hers. She's trying to be a Wunderkind, in his. I don't want anyone to want to be someone else and at the same time I feel this ache inside like that's all I really want is to be someone else. These stories make me think of that feeling more than anything else so I'm caught between wanting to talk about them to me and be them and wanting them to talk to me like I'm me. It's an almost. Short stories end and go on without you too soon. Maybe that's it.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Eh?Eh!

    I've noticed many folks who read and review literature on this site will namedrop other authors in a sort of Iron Chef flowery manner of description, knowing that other literary folk will instantly understand what is meant when saying 'this prose invokes a similar sense of spring as Lord Bigbeard With Tiny Spectacles, and a harmonious interplay of flavors identical to Oppressed In Her Time Strong Woman Author' (I swear every episode of Iron Chef used the spring and harmony phrases, it was like " I've noticed many folks who read and review literature on this site will namedrop other authors in a sort of Iron Chef flowery manner of description, knowing that other literary folk will instantly understand what is meant when saying 'this prose invokes a similar sense of spring as Lord Bigbeard With Tiny Spectacles, and a harmonious interplay of flavors identical to Oppressed In Her Time Strong Woman Author' (I swear every episode of Iron Chef used the spring and harmony phrases, it was like "throbbing vulva" or "splay" with that one romance novel). I want to play! But I haven't read enough literary greats to knowledgeably toss out names like this, so I'll go with the little I've got. Ahem: McCullers' slim volume of stories is reminiscent of Sherwood Anderson's wonderful Winesburg, Ohio with soul-wrenching insights, more grimly presented than the gentle I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, and nothing like Grunberg or Nabokov. There, I'm all played out. Whereas Anderson swung his wrench at all the nuts and bolts of the broken soul – isolation, trampled dreams, lost reputation, lost love, lost hope, lost independence, lost passions – McCullers seemed to wield her special-edition lady's wrench with padded pink handle only for the love part. Not that she wrote in a lesser manner, or that I could've been able to identify Carson McCullers as female until I saw her author photo inside the covers of other editions when I was browsing, just that love is stereotypically thought of as being a womanly emotion and her decision to write only about this one topic led me to dig this hole with no way to get out because I wanted to describe a pink-handled wrench to make fun of those stupid "lady's toolkit" that are smaller and more expensive as manufacturers try to play on gender differences for a profit...am I still in the hole? I do sort of believe that "all you need is love" and the rest will follow, but I would've liked to see what she had to say about the rest. There are a few different ways of properly tensioning high-strength bolts. The "high-strength" just means a stronger type of steel with restrictions on the variability allowed in the material strength, critical with things like steel buildings and bridges where the material properties need to be reliably uniform and, well, more. I glossed over the bolt-tensioning methods a few years back, when I had to pretend to be expert enough to inspect some repairs (but I'm positive the ironworkers knew I was frontin' when they had to correct my lingo, sigh). Let me teach you! All the tensioning methods boil down to requiring a certain amount of rotation to achieve the right amount of tension. Since high-strength bolt material doesn't have a well-defined yield point, there's no accurate way of...I think I've lost most people here. Okay, the required rotations had to be empirically calibrated for...no, that's even more boring. You need to give the wrench a half-turn of the nut. Too simple? ...moving on. The title story was the longest, a novelette or novella (I wish there were word/page counts for these so I could use the right word). A strong unfeminine woman gave her love to her leeching hunchback cousin but then loses all when a rejected lover returns. Lovely passage: But though the outward facts of this love are indeed sad and ridiculous, it must be remembered that the real story was that which took place in the soul of the lover himself. So who but God can be the final judge of this or any other love? Feeling: more than half a turn, overtensioned. "Wunderkind" – A young pianist prodigy finds she'd lost whatever it was that brought emotion to her music (love of music? in the swirl of adolescence?). I was forced to take piano lessons for a long time after losing the fun so I was indifferent at best to playing, but there was this one time I finished a piece and my teacher told me I'd had a very nice interpretation of it. Huh? I was just trying to hit the notes until the end, but I had somehow managed to vary the speed and volume in a way that sounded pleasing? She could've been throwing me a bone, because I'd been playing a number of years and couldn't get past the mechanics; I wondered about that for a long time, and still do, whether I really had played well or whether it was an accident, and what it would be like if I could do that deliberately. What would it be like if I could do that deliberately, and then lost that ability? Would it hurt? Lovely passage: 'Do you know how many children Bach had?' 'A good many. Twenty some odd.' 'Well then –, he could not have been so cold – then.' Feeling: half a turn, but undertensioned somehow. "The Jockey" – The shortest and vaguest, and I found it to be the most powerful. The jockey's hurt is just barely limned in narration by 3 other characters, in their exchanged words, in the description of his behaviors, but oh, his grief!, a dry-eyed rage pounding the air. Lovely passage: nothing I could pluck out. Feeling: half a turn, perfect. "Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland" – The head of a music department, his life simple and direct, hires a new instructor who tells outlandish tales. Lovely passage: Day and night she had drudged and struggled and thrown her soul into her work, and there was not much of her left over for anything else. Being human, she suffered from this lack and did what she could to make up for it.... Through the lies, she lived vicariously. The lies doubled the little of her existence that was left over from work and augmented the little rag end of her personal life. Feeling: under half a turn, undertensioned. "The Sojourner" – A man who had just flown home for his father's funereal chances to meet his ex-wife and sees the family and life he might have had if he'd stayed with her. To go through life, and then second guess? A nightmare! Lovely passage: It was a Madonna loveliness, dependent on the family ambiance. Feeling: a resentfully granted half a turn, correctly tensioned I guess. "Domestic Dilemma" – An evening in the life of a working man who has an alcoholic stay-at-home wife and worries about his small children. A passage I disagree with: Absorbed in the instant – the tooth, the bath, the quarter – the fluid passage of child-time had borne these weighless episodes like leaves in the swift current of a shallow stream while the adult enigma was beached and forgotten on the shore. No. So wrong. Children remember everything. They may not show it right away, they may act the way they usually do, but those shouted arguments between mommy and daddy aren't forgotten. Feeling: over half a turn, undertensioned. "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud" – First you need to grow and become strong before you soar? I interpret things too literally. Lovely passage: They start at the wrong end of love. They begin at the climax. Can you wonder it is so miserable? Feeling: maybe half a turn?, I think it's correctly tensioned? Literary fiction is exhausting. When there are lasers or magic or talking animals, I can tune down the introspection and enjoy a story with a quick one-sentence lesson thrown in - entertainment. Lit-fic waves a wrench threateningly in my direction and forces a magnifying glass solely inward. It's good, to consider oneself and place in the world, what I'm going to be when I grow up, how do I view and treat others, think about situations I've never faced but be able to have empathy for those who have...the real world can be just as bizarre but too real in a way that I unthinkingly absorb and file information. At first I was feeling that MuCullers' characters were more outlandish than necessary until I began remembering some of the people I've known and their misfortunes (to keep the theme of the book, misfortunes with love): I had this one babysitter when I was 5 who would make up and sing lullabies to her 2 babies; 20 years later I saw in the newspaper that she was in jail for murdering her husband. My 6th grade teacher went on to become a full-time police officer and then county sheriff; I saw a newspaper article last year that he was resigning in disgrace after it was discovered that he'd used his office for an adulterous affair. I heard about college classmate S. in the news, when it was reported that he'd been murdered; he'd been dating the ex-gf of his best friend but that friend shot him and her and killed himself. These are all so horrible! How could I forget them? But if I had these at the forefront of my thoughts, I would be crazy. Crazier. Visibly crazier. Isn't it a survival mechanism, to forget? But important to remember. Lit-fic's wrench to the rescue. Something less wrench-ing (yuk yuk) next.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jessaka

    A Fun, Quirky read This was so unexpected since I had read. “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by this same author,” and found it left me feeling hollow inside, causing me to not wish to read other books by her. This book was just quirky, and it left me wanting to read more. The scene began in a small town in America. The town has almost died, and the café that was once ran by a six-foot two woman was closed down. Half the porch floor had been painted, as were the exterior walls adjoining it. This w A Fun, Quirky read This was so unexpected since I had read. “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” by this same author,” and found it left me feeling hollow inside, causing me to not wish to read other books by her. This book was just quirky, and it left me wanting to read more. The scene began in a small town in America. The town has almost died, and the café that was once ran by a six-foot two woman was closed down. Half the porch floor had been painted, as were the exterior walls adjoining it. This was done just before the café had closed. It seemed to represent many small towns in America that I had seen in recent years whose windows had been boarded up, whose town had died. One reviewer stated that the proprietor, a 6-foot two woman named Amelia, was a lesbian. I had not caught that, after all, I, a 5-foot 2 woman had worn overalls and swamp boots, and I was not a lesbian. Well, they were Muckers, not swamp boots, but if I had lived by a swamp, I would have had a pair. This I know to be true. Maybe Muckers are swamp boots. And the man she was married to for ten days, was gay, and I had thought of that he was but only near the end of this short story, when the little man with the humped back had followed him all around town, well, sometime after that began happening. When Amelia turned her store into a café, the town’s people used it as a gathering place, as all small towns do. Well, people in cities do the same, so what am I talking about? It is either go to cafes and visit with friends or go to church on Sunday to visit them, or do both. That is how it is in Tahlequah, only we also have clubs such as photography, mineral, book, garden, and so on.. But our town is also a pretty little place, one that is not in the process of dying. The story continues to rattle on and unraveled as well. A little man with a humped back shows up in town claiming to be Amelia’s cousin, and she allows him to live with her. The following day, but only because Amelia had not opened the café, the town’s people decide that Amelia had killed the poor man. Wow! Small towns are like that. We had a murder here, and people here thought that a certain person had murdered her, and the woman knew that she was suspect. No one apologized when it was proven differently. Just didn’t want her to know their suspicions. No one said a word to “Amelia either. And this is where I leave you. It was a great story, well worth reading.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Algernon (Darth Anyan)

    The town itself is dreary; not much is there except the cotton mill, the two-room houses where workers live, a few peach trees, a church with two colored windows, and a miserable main street only a hundred yards long. On Saturdays the tenants from the near-by farms come in for a day of talk and trade. Otherwise the town is lonesome, sad, and like a place that is far off and estranged from all the other places in the world. I picked the book mostly based on the title. Mccullers seems to have a k The town itself is dreary; not much is there except the cotton mill, the two-room houses where workers live, a few peach trees, a church with two colored windows, and a miserable main street only a hundred yards long. On Saturdays the tenants from the near-by farms come in for a day of talk and trade. Otherwise the town is lonesome, sad, and like a place that is far off and estranged from all the other places in the world. I picked the book mostly based on the title. Mccullers seems to have a knack for capturing the imagination with only a couple of words (The Heart is a Lonely Hunter and Reflections in a Golden Eye are calling to me, too). The promise of an atmospheric and melancholic tale is fulfilled right from the first line that I quoted above. The story that gives the title to this book is by far the best of the collection, as well as the longest - taking up half of the page count. The others leave an impression of exercises in style or unfinished sketches compared to the attention to detail and to the careful characterization of the longer novella. The Jockey and A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud made me think McCullers was trying to imitate Hemingway. Their styles are different, but both show a predilection for writing about the misfits, the defeated and the other people living on the fringes of society, about broken relationships and the inability of couples to communicate with each other. The stories are quite painful in their raw display of hurt. Reading through the biography of the author, they appear to have a strong autobiographical component. Wunderkind and Madame Zilensky are set in the music world, one about the pressures to succeed heaped upon the very young artists, the other about the artistic temperament that instead of adapting itself to the outside world, prefers to playact on an invented stage peopled with imaginary people. The Sojourner is about broken marriages and people without roots and A Domestic Dillema is about alcohol dependance and denial. I'm not sure why her style is called Gothic, but the Southern qualification is justified both for the main novella in this collection and for the rest of the short stories, even those where the Southern characters live in exile in New York or in Paris. They all carry with them the nostalgia of the home counties, the lassitude induced by the harsh climate, the hard-edged, no-nonsense practicality coupled with a sense of belonging to a tight community and a fragility of emotion that often results in broken spirits given to alcoholism or violence or solitude. I could easily make the connection to the works of William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams, with Carson McCullers having a gentler voice and a more direct, more clear prose style. Coming back to the main course, the subject of unrequited love is explored through the stories of three people forming the points of a triangle of longing and despair. We know from the start that this will not be a happy story : the opening scene presents the aftermath of the tempestuous events that turned the only cafe in town into a ghost house. But for a while there was a glimmer of happiness and contentment. The trouble with love, and I kind of agree with McCullers here, is that loving and being loved are not quite the same thing: Love is a joint experience between two persons - but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. Miss Amelia is a formidable woman, six foot tall and eminently capable of taking care of her own affairs, holding the general store, owning the cotton mill and supplying the town's moonshine from her own still in the swamp. People are generally afraid of her and her temper ( It was said that if Miss Amelia so much as stumbled over a rock in the road, she would glance around instinctively as though looking for something to sue about. ) After a failed marriage to the Marvin Macy, a cruel and amoral man who turned to crime after being rejected, Miss Amelia takes in a stranger who claims he is her distant cousin. Under his influence, the elderly spinster mellows down and starts receiving the people of the town in her house of an evening, serving food and drinks and opening a very succesful cafe. That is, until Macy gets out of jail and comes back to stir up trouble in town. The people in this town were then unused to gathering together for the sake of pleasure. They met to work in the mill. Or on Sunday there would be an all-day camp meeting - and though that is pleasure, the intention of the whole affair is to sharpen your view of Hell and put into you a keen fear of the Lord Almighty. Setting aside for now a discussion about this particular Southern flavor of Christianity that prefers to stress punishment instead of compassion, I will refer to the fact that all three protagonists are orphans, trying to stumble ahead on their own in the jungle of human emotions, and how all three are gauche and awkward in putting their feelings in words, preferring to let the fists decide issues of the heart and by this destroying the very thing they were trying to salvage. Time and time again, Mccullers returns to the theme of loneliness, of isolation, and I can't help feeling sad about the kind of experiences that led her to such a bleak outlook on life at such a young age. Once you have lived with another, it is a great torture to have to live alone. Recommended for all lovers of Southern authors.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    Although the other short stories in this collection were really good it's Carson McCullers ability to write about the sad and lonely nature of small town life that really showcases her talent, and in 'The Ballad of the Sad Cafe' she has beautifully crafted a simple and somewhat bewildering little tale that involves three main parties, the lady owner of a small store(which would later become a cafe), a strange hunchback who she takes to her heart, and her ex con husband who is back in town and lo Although the other short stories in this collection were really good it's Carson McCullers ability to write about the sad and lonely nature of small town life that really showcases her talent, and in 'The Ballad of the Sad Cafe' she has beautifully crafted a simple and somewhat bewildering little tale that involves three main parties, the lady owner of a small store(which would later become a cafe), a strange hunchback who she takes to her heart, and her ex con husband who is back in town and looking for trouble. Similar in tone to ' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter' though this was less melancholic but carried a bit more menace, and at only eighty five pages each and everyone of them were pure gold!. The term 'great writer' is used far to often, McCullers would fit into this category with ease.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Melanie

    There is a dark, syrupy sway to Carson's work that I've always been a sucker for. The Ballad of the Sad Café is faultless. I devoured it. She employs her signature style study on heartbreak, cruelty & loneliness, as seen with The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Set in a town that is 'lonesome, sad, and like a place that is far off and estranged from all other places in the world', with a striking central character Miss Amelia, whose violent & abrupt marriage inspires her to adopt years of solitude. 'th There is a dark, syrupy sway to Carson's work that I've always been a sucker for. The Ballad of the Sad Café is faultless. I devoured it. She employs her signature style study on heartbreak, cruelty & loneliness, as seen with The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Set in a town that is 'lonesome, sad, and like a place that is far off and estranged from all other places in the world', with a striking central character Miss Amelia, whose violent & abrupt marriage inspires her to adopt years of solitude. 'the hunchback' character arrives like a tornado, bringing the townsfolk & Miss Amelia out of their small town slumber, to an inevitablely cruel conclusion. The other short stories are great too, but The Ballad is really a stand alone Giant.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    In this collection of short stories, Carson McCullers shows that not only can she break you with her prose but she can do it with only a couple of short pages. The main story, The Ballad of the Sad Café, is quintessentially McCullers. Set in the South with a cast melancholy characters. Can you get more McCullers!? The prose is dripping with sand and dust. Even though this story takes up roughly half of the whole book, it wasn't my favourite in the collection. I loved Madame Zilensky and the King In this collection of short stories, Carson McCullers shows that not only can she break you with her prose but she can do it with only a couple of short pages. The main story, The Ballad of the Sad Café, is quintessentially McCullers. Set in the South with a cast melancholy characters. Can you get more McCullers!? The prose is dripping with sand and dust. Even though this story takes up roughly half of the whole book, it wasn't my favourite in the collection. I loved Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland. It's a fun little story imbued Chekhovian humour and with a title like that, I'd be surprised if it didn't inspire Wes Anderson at some point in his career. This collection is very good. Most of the latter stories break with your preconceived image of McCullers' plots. They show a precise humour and an eye for the inane. McCullers was a Gothic chameleon.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Chrissie

    I will write reviews as I complete each story. Seven stories and seven different narrators: David Ledoux, Joe Barrett, Therese Plummer, Kevin Pariseau, Suzanne Toren, Edoardo Ballerini, Barbara Rosenblat I have asked Audible to tell me which narrator narrated which story. Have yet to receive a reply. *************************************** STORY 1 The Ballad of the Sad Café : 3 stars What I liked was the feel of the town. It was an entity in itself. The townspeople are not individuals, but a group. Oft I will write reviews as I complete each story. Seven stories and seven different narrators: David Ledoux, Joe Barrett, Therese Plummer, Kevin Pariseau, Suzanne Toren, Edoardo Ballerini, Barbara Rosenblat I have asked Audible to tell me which narrator narrated which story. Have yet to receive a reply. *************************************** STORY 1 The Ballad of the Sad Café : 3 stars What I liked was the feel of the town. It was an entity in itself. The townspeople are not individuals, but a group. Often people behave differently as part of a group than when each feels themselves on their own! The story and what happens in this small southern town is atmospherically told. It is the atmosphere drawn that I enjoyed most. There are three central characters: Miss Amelia (shop/café owner), Marvin Macy (Amelia’s hated and deposed earlier husband) and Lymon (Amelia’s cousin, a dwarf hunchback). Their behavior didn’t make sense to me, even when seen in the light of the novella’s central theme - the difference between being a lover versus the beloved. Group behavior felt spot-on, but not the individuals’ behavior. Maybe I analyze too much. The audiobook narration was slow and atmospheric, impossible to improve upon. I like slow. *************************************** Story 2 Wunderkind: 5 stars Wow, I am not musical and still I understood the agony of the story’s fifteen-year-old who no longer could play the piano as she had before. Her heart and soul knew how the music was to be played……..but her fingers just no longer could. Heart-wrenching. Oh, I wanted the teacher to talk to her, to comfort her, to give her encouragement. This has to be quasi-autobiographical. The author had wanted to study at Juliard. Again, absolutely marvelous narration. This story is very short. :0( **************************************** Story 3 The Jockey 1 star This was ridiculously short! How can I “judge” a situation or the people if I know scarcely a thing about them? None of the characters seemed at all pleasant or interesting. Narration OK. **************************************** Story 4 Madame Zalenski and the King of Finland Narrator: Suzanne Toren 4 stars Not that I understood all of this, but it certainly made me laugh! After completion I thought and thought how to make sense of what I had been told. You CAN have a democracy in a land with a king. Still, Finland is a democracy but has no king! And dogs CAN walk backwards…..perhaps. Who is the crazy one?! I liked how this is written; it makes me curious and is amusing. Excellent narration. **************************************** Story 5 The Sojourner 2 stars Somebody close dies and of course you stop and rethink your own life. Narration and story just OK. *************************************** Story 6 A Domestic Dilema 3 stars A touching glimpse at the problems caused by alcohol in a young family. Could Carson McCullers have said more in a longer novel? She said a lot here with few words. Good narration. *************************************** Story 7 A Tree, a Rock, a Cloud 3 stars Yeah, I liked this one too. The theme? The difficulties of loving a woman. A brief talk between a paperboy, the owner of an all-night streetcar café and an old faded redhead. Carson McCullers paints pictures with words. Then she leaves a thought to think upon. Start by loving something simpler. Good narration. **************************************** Three stars for the whole book. Some stories are better than others. You get glimpses into the worlds of others, and you start thinking. Always good writing. I prefer long novels over short stories and novellas, even when the writing is as good as this.

  18. 5 out of 5

    L.A. Starks

    This book is a novella and several short stories. All are entertaining reading, focusing as they do on unusual characters and situations. From a literary viewpoint, Ballad is the most interesting because rather than a single character confronting him/herself or two characters confronting one another, it features a genuine triangle. None of the three characters is particularly appealing but readers will still be sympathetic to the roundabout of unrequited love. The remaining stories are interesting This book is a novella and several short stories. All are entertaining reading, focusing as they do on unusual characters and situations. From a literary viewpoint, Ballad is the most interesting because rather than a single character confronting him/herself or two characters confronting one another, it features a genuine triangle. None of the three characters is particularly appealing but readers will still be sympathetic to the roundabout of unrequited love. The remaining stories are interesting character studies, sometimes ending with a twist. The language is lyrical and readers will feel compassion toward the characters McCullers describes.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Το Άθχημο γατί του θενιόρ Γκουαναμίρου

    The Ballad of the Sad Café is a story about a love triangle mixed with a strong dose of love and hatred, devotion and betrayal, loneliness and companionship. It's a drama that in the end makes you laugh and weep. All the events take place in a small southern provincial town. Where raw realism encounters the absurd and the grotesque, comes a special combination, a gentle poetry of the miserable daily life, a tragedy so far-fetched that might seem comical, a transformation of real people into caric The Ballad of the Sad Café is a story about a love triangle mixed with a strong dose of love and hatred, devotion and betrayal, loneliness and companionship. It's a drama that in the end makes you laugh and weep. All the events take place in a small southern provincial town. Where raw realism encounters the absurd and the grotesque, comes a special combination, a gentle poetry of the miserable daily life, a tragedy so far-fetched that might seem comical, a transformation of real people into caricatures that are rendered in such a way that they all end up seeming weird, unique, authentic. Το πρώτο διήγημα που δίνει και τον γενικό τίτλο στη συλλογή "Η Μπαλάντα του θλιμμένου Καφέ" (The Ballad of the Sad Café) είναι μια σπαραξικάρδια και ανορθόδοξη ιστορία αγάπης. Αυτό το είδος λογοτεχνίας έχει χαρακτηριστεί ως Southern Gothic. Εκεί που ο ωμός ρεαλισμός συναντάει το παράλογο και το γκροτέσκο προκύπτει ένας ιδιαίτερος συνδυασμός, μια ευγενής ποίηση της μίζερης καθημερινότητας, μια τραγωδία τόσο παρατραβηγμένη που καταλήγει κωμική, μια μεταμόρφωση των προσώπων σε καρικατούρες που δίνεται με τέτοιον τρόπο ώστε όλα στο τέλος καταλήγουν να αποτελούν μορφές αλλόκοτες, μοναδικές, αυθεντικές. Κι αν μέσα σε όλα αυτά συνυπολογίσει κάποιος την καταπιεσμένη και μοναχική φύση της συγγραφέως που υπήρξε ένας ιδιαίτερα βασανισμένος άνθρωπος, μπορεί εύκολα να καταλήξει στο συμπέρασμα πως η ηρωίδα του διηγήματος, η ανδροπρεπής και δυναμική Amelia, είναι μια συμβολική απεικόνιση του εαυτού της. Γιατί πόσες πιθανότητες ευτυχίας θα μπορούσε να έχει μια αμφισεξουαλική γυναίκα στην συντηρητική αμερικάνικη κοινωνία του '50; Η Μπαλάντα του θλιμμένου καφέ, είναι η αφήγηση ενός ερωτικού τριγώνου, μια ιστορία που περιλαμβάνει γερές δόσης αγάπης και μίσους, αφοσίωσης και προδοσίας, μοναξιάς και συντροφικότητας. Είναι ένα δράμα που στο τέλος σου προκαλεί γέλια μαζί με τα δάκρυα. Κι όλα τα γεγονότα διαδραματίζονται σε μια μικρή επαρχιακή πόλη του Νότου: "Η ίδια η πόλη είναι καταθλιπτική, όπου δεν έχει και πολλά πράγματα για να δεις. [...] Οι χειμώνες εδώ είναι σύντομοι και ψυχροί, τα καλοκαίρια λευκά από την αντηλιά και τον καύσωνα [....] Δεν υπάρχει τίποτα για να κάνεις μέσα σε αυτήν την πόλη. Μπορείς να πας μια βόλτα μέχρι τον νερόμυλο, να σταθείς κλωτσώντας τα κούτσουρα ή να σκεφτείς τί θα μπορούσες να κάνεις με την παλιά ρόδα από άμαξα που είναι παρατημένη στον δρόμο κοντά στην εκκλησία. Η ψυχή σαπίζει από τη βαρεμάρα. Θα μπορούσες ίσως να πας ως τον αυτοκινητόδρομο του Forks Falls και να δεις τους κατάδικους να τραγουδούν δεμένοι στη σειρά με την σιδερένια αλυσίδα". Το "Παιδί - Θαύμα" (Wunderkind, στο πρωτότυπο) είναι ένα σύντομο δράμα για τις ματαιωμένες προσδοκίες μιας νεαρής πιανίστριας που μόλις έχει μπει στην εφηβεία. Ο δάσκαλός της, πιέζοντάς την να βγάλει από μέσα της το κρυμμένο ταλέντο που διαβλέπει σε αυτήν, καταλήγει να την εξαντλήσει, στραγγίζοντας όλη τη ζωτική ενέργεια που είναι τόσο απαραίτητη για για έναν ερμηνευτή. Είναι συνεχώς κουρασμένη, ζει αποκομμένη από τα υπόλοιπα παιδιά της ηλικίας της, μια μικρομέγαλη ιδιοφυία που σβήνει πριν καταφέρει να αποκαλυφθεί, που ίσως να μην υπήρξε και ποτέ παρά μόνο μέσα στο μυαλό του μέντορά της. Η ίδια η συγγραφέας σπούδαζε μουσική την οποία υποχρεώθηκε να εγκαταλείψει, όταν μετά από μια κρίση ρευματικού πυρετού αντιμετώπισε πρόβλημα με τις αρθρώσεις της. Το συγκεκριμένο διήγημα (το πρώτο της) δημοσιεύτηκε αρχικά στο νεοϋρκέζικο περιοδικό Story στα 1936, όταν η McCullers ήταν δεκαεννιά ετών, λίγα χρόνια αφότου είχε εγκαταλείψει κάθε ελπίδα για μια καριέρα στον χώρο της μουσικής. Το επόμενο φαινομενικά αδιάφορο, διήγημα με τίτλο "Ο αναβάτης του Ιπποδρόμου" (The Jockey) μοιάζει σαν ένα είδος λογοτεχνικού snapshot, μια συντομογραφική σπουδή επάνω σε ένα θέμα ή μια σκηνή από ένα ευρύτερο έργο που τελικά δεν γράφτηκε ποτέ. Ένας τζόκεϋ, ο Bitsy Barlow, εμφανίζεται στο εστιατόριο όπου τρώνε τρεις "παράγοντες" του ιπποδρόμου, συμπεριφέρεται παιδιάστικα και γελοία, σαν μικρό παιδί που παθαίνει μια κρίση θυμού, ένα ξέσπασμα ανωριμότητας γύρω από το θέμα του φίλου και συναδέλφου του. (view spoiler)[''They were particular friends" (ιδιαίτεροι φίλοι) λέει ο ένας από τους παράγοντες, για τον φίλο του Bitsy που σακατεύτηκε μετά από ένα ατύχημα και απέμεινε χωρίς δουλειά. Ο ήρωας λοιπόν προσπαθεί να τους πιέσει να του δώσουν άλλη μία ευκαιρία, μόλις θα είναι ξανά σε θέση να εργαστεί. Αλλά φαίνεται πως όλες οι προσπάθειές του συναντούν έναν τοίχο αδιαφορίας που καμουφλάρεται πίσω από μια επιφανειακή συγκατάβαση. Στο τέλος o ήρωας φεύγει ηττημένος ξεστομίζοντας μια φραση την οποία επαναλαμβάνει: " libertines". Απεικονίζεται εδώ λοιπόν με μια κωμικότητα που έρχεται να υπογραμμίσει το κρυμμένο δράμα, ένας άνδρας που αγωνίζεται να σώσει τον αγαπημένο του. Αν ο ίδιος ο Bitsy ήταν γυναίκα, κι ερχόταν να παρακαλέσει το αφεντικό του συζύγου της να τον ξαναδεχτεί στη δουλειά, μπορεί να συναντούσε μεγαλύτερη κατανόηση ή ακόμα και να έβρισκε και κάποια αναπόκριση. Εδώ όμως ο ήρωας ούτε μπορεί, ούτε πρέπει να εκφράσει όλα όσα νιώθει και έτσι για τους τρίτους περνάει για τρελός. Η απελπισία του μοιάζει με πρώτη ματιά αδικαιολόγητη. Αλλά οι πραγματικά ανήθικοι είναι αυτοί που κάνουν πως δεν καταλαβαίνουν, που επιλέγουν να στρέψουν το βλέμμα τους αλλού - το συμβολικό νίψιμο των χειρών του πλούσιου είναι ενδεικτικό αυτής ακριβώς της υποκρισίας. (hide spoiler)] Το τραγικό λοιπόν σε αυτήν την ιστορία είναι όλα όσα δεν λέγονται, γιατί δεν γίνεται να ειπωθούν. Κι όταν ένας άνθρωπος δεν είναι σε θέση να εκφραστεί ελεύθερα, καταλήγει να αντιδρά σπασμωδικά και άτσαλα και οι άλλοι οι "φυσιολογικοί" τον ειρωνεύονται κι από πάνω, και πίσω από την πλάτη του τον αποκαλούν "τρελό". Η ιστορία της "Κυρίας Zilensky και του Βασιλιά της Φινλανδίας" (Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland) είναι μια ιστορία για την αποδοχή. Μια ταλαντούχα μουσικός έρχεται να διδάξει σε ένα αμερικάνικο κολέγιο. Ο καθηγητής που φροντίζει για τις συστάσεις και την εγκατάστασή της, σταδιακά αρχίζει να παρατηρεί κάποια πράγματα στη συμπεριφορά της που τον προβληματίζουν. Είναι μια καλή και αξιοπρεπής γυναίκα και εξαιρετική στο μάθημά της. Αλλά κάτι στις ιστορίες που του διηγείται τον παραξενεύει. Ειδικά ένα περιστατικό που αφορά στη συνάντησή της, στο Ελσίνκι, έξω από ένα ζαχαροπλαστείο, με τον Βασιλιά της Φινλανδίας. Έτσι ανακαλύπτει μια πλευρά του χαρακτήρα της που αρχικά τον σοκάρει. (view spoiler)[Η κυρία Zilensky είναι μυθομανής. Η αιτία που αγαπά να διηγείται όλες αυτές τις απίθανες ιστορίες είναι για να γεμίσει το κενό της ζωής της. Δεν βλάπτει κανέναν με αυτές τις διηγήσεις και δεν στοχεύει σε κάποιο απώτερο συμφέρον. Απλά, πέρα από τη συμβατική ζωή της, πλάθει κόσμους διαφορετικούς και μέσα από αυτούς δραπετεύει. Αρχικά ο καθηγητής προσπαθεί να την θεραπεύσει από αυτή την μανία, στην πορεία όμως συνειδητοποιεί πως αν της στερήσει το δικαίωμά της να δραπετεύει μέσα από τη φαντασία της, θα είναι σαν να την δολοφονεί. Η αποδοχή που της δείχνει τελικά, πηγάζει μέσα από τρία συναισθήματα, την κατανόηση, τον οίκτο και ένα είδος αγάπης που αψηφάει τη συμβατική λογική. Η σκηνή με τον σκύλο που τρέχει ανάποδα στο τέλος συμβολίζει το γεγονός πως σε αυτήν τη ζωή μπορεί να υπάρχουν πράγματα που δεν καταλαβαίνουμε και μας φαίνονται παράξενα, αλλά, από τη στιγμή που δεν βλάπτουν κανέναν, δεν υπάρχει λόγος να προσπαθούμε να τα αλλάξουμε. (hide spoiler)] Ο "Παρεπίδημος" (The Sojourner) καταπιάνεται με έναν ταξιδιώτη που προσπαθεί να θυμηθεί κάτι που του διαφεύγει. Μπορεί τελικά αυτό που ξεχνάμε να είναι ό,τι αξίζει περισσότερο στη ζωή μας και είναι θλιβερό πώς ο χρόνος ξεγλιστράει και μας οδηγεί ολοένα και πιο κοντά πίσω στην ανυπαρξία. Από την κοσμοπολίτικη Νέα Υόρκη, πάνω από τον Ατλαντικό ως το μελαγχολικό Παρίσι, ο ήρωας κάνει ένα ταξίδι διαφορετικό από τα συνηθισμένα. Είναι ένα ταξίδι αυτογνωσίας, οι αναμνήσεις του παρελθόντος ξυπνούν μέσα του όλα εκείνα τα από καιρό ξεχασμένα αισθήματα κι αυτό γίνεται η αφορμή για να ωριμάσει και να πάρει κάποιες πολύ σημαντικές αποφάσεις. Μια γλυκόπικρη μικρή ιστορία, γεμάτη ανθρωπιά και ορισμένες ζεστές αχτίδες αισιοδοξίας. Το "Ένα οικογενειακό δίλημμα" (A Domestic Dilemma) αφορά το ζήτημα του αλκοολισμού που αργά και σταδιακά δηλητηριάζει τη σχέση ενός νέου ζευγαριού και απειλεί να καταστρέψει την οικογενειακή τους ευτυχία. Είναι η γυναίκα που έχει το πρόβλημα και οι σκηνές απεικονίζονται εξόχως ρεαλιστικά, αλλά είναι ο άντρας που αφηγείται την ιστορία και μέσα από τη δική του τρυφερή ματιά βλέπουμε τα πράγματα. Σημειωτέον και η ίδια η συγγραφέας αντιμετώπιζε πρόβλημα αλκοολισμού. Η τελευταία ιστορία περιλαμβάνει κι αυτή έναν αλλόκοτο και πληγωμένο χαρακτήρα, ένα μεθυσμένο γέρο άνδρα που εξηγεί σε έναν πιτσιρικά, πωλητή εφημερίδων, την επιστήμη της αγάπης. Έχει τίτλο "'Ένα δέντρο, μια πέτρα, ένα σύννεφο" (A Tree, a Rock, a Cloud) και αποτελεί το ιδανικό επιμύθιο που συνοψίζει το σύνολο των διηγημάτων της συλλογής.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    There are seven stories in this volume – of them I would guess that in six month time I will remember only two. Those are the title story and the story called The Sojourner. And to celebrate, those are the only stories I’ll talk about here except to say that one of the problems I found with the other stories was that they lacked a real sense of place. McCullers's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has been one of the most remarkable books I’ve read all year – perhaps it will become one of my favourite There are seven stories in this volume – of them I would guess that in six month time I will remember only two. Those are the title story and the story called The Sojourner. And to celebrate, those are the only stories I’ll talk about here except to say that one of the problems I found with the other stories was that they lacked a real sense of place. McCullers's The Heart is a Lonely Hunter has been one of the most remarkable books I’ve read all year – perhaps it will become one of my favourite American novels ever. A bit early to tell just yet. I know, that is a big statement, but I have thought back on it repeatedly since reading it and I’ve found myself reminded of it repeatedly in unexpected ways. Perhaps the idea we are so achingly close to seeing a Black American president of the US has been one of the catalysts reminding me of that book – but on other, simpler, more human scales I find instances in my own life bringing it back to me time and again. It is a remarkably beautiful book of a complexity and subtlety that is hard to credit to someone of McCullers’ age when she wrote it. She was only in her early thirties when she wrote the long short story or short novella, The Ballad of the Sad Café. I have a horrible sense that anything I will say about this story will spoil it for you if you intend to read it – and I think you should intend to read it. Bitter is a lovely word to describe this story – I mean, that back of mouth taste that lingers long after the food that caused it is gone. Bitter, sad and all too human. I’ve never been to the United States and so it is axiomatic that I’ve never been to the Southern States either. Yet, this has such a strong evocation of the world that I imagine must have been that world that I feel I know it almost intimately. I can smell it, I can hear its twang and feel the warmth of its long summer nights. Even so, this is not simply a book about capturing the atmosphere of the South, no matter how successfully this has been done – nonetheless, as I said before, when McCullers does do this she does something remarkably special and important. This story is also a treatise on the nature of love. She takes an idea from Of Human Bondage (another of those life altering novels I’ve read this year) and plays with it. The idea is that in any relationship there is one who loves and another who is loved. This played out in a remarkable love triangle in this story. The phrase ‘love is blind’ comes to mind – but all the better to highlight the themes at work here. Love is not only blind, but inscrutable with as much power to destroy as to create – love is both Vishnu and Shiva. This is a fable, many of the elements to this story are amusingly larger than life – one character is even able to wiggle his ears in a fascinating way – but the story itself is quite confronting in what it has to say about the nature of love. So, before I say too much and spoil this for you, I had better stop. Although, before I do stop I should say that it is terribly interesting that this story is not told from the perspective of any of the major characters, but from the perspective of one of the town’s people. This is told from the perspective of someone who does not know ‘the whole truth’ and this adds wonderfully to a story where one’s sympathies are constantly under attack – even though we tend to come down on the side of Miss Amelia right to the end. And now I really do need to shut up before I say something you really will regret… The Ballad of the Sad Café is by far the longest story in the collection – in comparison the other story I liked so very much was only around 12 pages long - The Sojourner. A simple story really, about a man returning to Europe after attending the funeral of his father and spotting his ex-wife walking down the street in front of him and, on a whim, deciding to contact her. I had expected this to be a story of recriminations, and in a sense it was – but not of the kind I had expected. I guess it stands in contrast to the title story in that, if anything, the ‘lesson’ of this story is that there is never too much love in one’s life and the real loss one has in life is the lost opportunities we accumulate too readily where we miss the chance to show how much we really do love. Much of this – these lessons – is only hinted at in the story. They are shown in gentle acts of kindness and the lessons are shown to have been learnt in much the same way. Many of the other stories in this collection were more ‘stories’ – and they were not as good as a consequence – but these two stories were special. What is also interesting is that in so many of these stories – and note that I’ve also considered them less than successful, but not solely for this reason – the narrator or the main character from whom we witness the action of the story – is almost invariably male. The only story here told from the perspective of a female character was Wunderkind and that was written when McCullers was 17 years old. Now, I’m not saying woman can’t write convincingly from a male perspective, (how hard can it be to write from the perspective of someone who thinks about sex every 15 minutes?) but in some of the stories I felt seeing the story from the woman’s perspective may have been a much more interesting vantage point. I'm going to end with a quote from Sad Café that could have come straight from Of Human Bondage: -- It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being loved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is for ever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Ade Bailey

    I've just read this again after more than half a lifetime. The town hasn't changed. The intense feelings and moods are as I remember; the grotesqueries, the eroticism which is inverted into a thrilling sense of dread are the same. The book is the stuff of dreams. It's wetly lyrical, swamp stinking and dry, horrible and very, very funny. Biting in its demolition of cherished character types, a distorting mirror of the absurd upon the southern mythologies. The cafe, of course, is sad because it's I've just read this again after more than half a lifetime. The town hasn't changed. The intense feelings and moods are as I remember; the grotesqueries, the eroticism which is inverted into a thrilling sense of dread are the same. The book is the stuff of dreams. It's wetly lyrical, swamp stinking and dry, horrible and very, very funny. Biting in its demolition of cherished character types, a distorting mirror of the absurd upon the southern mythologies. The cafe, of course, is sad because it's character-ised by sad people whose idea of happiness is sad. I have this weird idea that Mcullers and Strindberg both worked from a palimpsestic Borgsian prototype to produce the Ballad and Miss Julie. The novel does encourage weird ideas. It's written precisely. It is essential to hear every comma. The glissando of relationships (between words, characters, times) are accompanied by pizzicato. The whole rolls seamlessly and beautifully along, yes, like a piece of music. In a story accompanying the Ballad (there are six others), The Sojourner, we have this: She began with a Bach prelude and fugue. The prelude was as gaily iridescent as a prism in a morning-room. The first voice of the fugue, an announcement pure and solitary, was repeated intermingling with a second voice, and again repeated within an elaborated frame, the multiple music, horizontal and serene, flowed with unhurried majesty. The principal melody was woven with two other voices, embellished with countless ingenuities – now dominant, again submerged, it had the sublimity of a single thing that does not fear surrender to the whole. Towards the end, the density of the material gathered for the last enriched insistence on the dominant first motif and with a chorded final statement the figure ended. That would seem to me a refraction of the musical sense of composition in McCullers' writing. Then, too, because she writes of dreariness, ennui, alienation, the shabby violences between people (too, the mysterious love that rises in the mysterious counterpoint that can only be experience in the reading, not the writing about), that sense of the existential dilemma of being oneself and not absorbed by the collective, the community, the other (or the weary narratives of the past, dead as the tumbling down ruin): this most beautiful of the chain gang, black and white chained together: One dark voice will start a phrase, half-sung, and like a question. And after a moment another voice will join in, soon the whole gang will be singing. The voices are dark in the golden glare, the music intricately blended, both somber and joyful. The music will swell until at last it seems that the music does not come from the twelve men on the gang, but from the earth itself, or the wide sky. It is music that causes the heart to broaden and the listener to grow cold with ecstasy and fright. Then slowly the music will sink down until at last there remains one lonely voice, then a great hoarse breath, the sun, the sound of the picks in the silence. And what kind of gang is this that can make such music? Just twelve mortal men, seven of them black and five of them white boys from this county. Just twelve mortal men who are together.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cecily

    Poignant short story of repressed feelings, mystery and missed opportunity in a small impoverished southern community, concerning Miss Amelia, cousin Lymon the hunchback, and Marvin Macy. It also contains several even shorter stories in the book, several with an overtly musical theme - like the title of this volume, much of her other work and indeed her life. In particular, Wunderkind probably echoes her thwarted plans to study at the Juliard (she lost the fees on the subway, so took a creative Poignant short story of repressed feelings, mystery and missed opportunity in a small impoverished southern community, concerning Miss Amelia, cousin Lymon the hunchback, and Marvin Macy. It also contains several even shorter stories in the book, several with an overtly musical theme - like the title of this volume, much of her other work and indeed her life. In particular, Wunderkind probably echoes her thwarted plans to study at the Juliard (she lost the fees on the subway, so took a creative writing course instead!).

  23. 4 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    Loved this story. Can see it a an Appalachian country ballad set to music. The St Wunderkind was very good too,. She is such an authentic writer, very attuned to time and place.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Elle (ellexamines)

    freshman high school english: book three I don't remember enough about this, but it is weird as fuck, and Carson McCullers is a gay icon. Imagine writing such fantastically obvious gay subtext in like, 1950. freshman high school english: book three I don't remember enough about this, but it is weird as fuck, and Carson McCullers is a gay icon. Imagine writing such fantastically obvious gay subtext in like, 1950.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Sue

    This is an excellent collection, with the titled novella being my favorite and having some truly wonderful prose throughout. It struck me as a southern tall tale crossed with that terrible "love gone wrong" plus Southern Gothic. So many parts equal a glorious whole for the reader if not for Miss Amelia.The descriptions of the café and the changes wrought on the town and its inhabitants are exciting to read, so full of life. But the pride that the café brought to this town had an effect on almost This is an excellent collection, with the titled novella being my favorite and having some truly wonderful prose throughout. It struck me as a southern tall tale crossed with that terrible "love gone wrong" plus Southern Gothic. So many parts equal a glorious whole for the reader if not for Miss Amelia.The descriptions of the café and the changes wrought on the town and its inhabitants are exciting to read, so full of life. But the pride that the café brought to this town had an effect on almost everyone, even the children. For in order to come to the café you did not have to buy the dinner, or a portion of liquor. There were cold bottled drinks for a nickel. And if you could not even afford that, Miss Amelia had a drink called Cherry Juice which sold for a penny a glass, and was pink-colored and very sweet. Almost everyone, with the exception of Reverend T. M. Willin, came to the café at least once during the week. Children love to sleep in houses other than their own, and to eat at a neighbor's table; on such occasions they behave themselves decently and are proud. The people in the town were likewise proud when sitting at the tables in the café. They washed before coming to Miss Amelia's, and scraped their feet very politely on the threshold as they entered the café. There, for a few hours at least, the deep bitter knowing that you are not worth much in this world could be laid low. (p 54) But of course this is more than the tale of a town and a café and Miss Amelia. It's also the tale of the hunchback dwarf, Cousin Lymon, and the one Marvin Macy. If you are not familiar with them, you must read the story! Of the other stories included in tis collection, my favorites are "Wunderkind" and "The Sojourner". Heartsick lovers and outsiders people her stories and seem to be searching for other places and people. But the star is "The Ballad of the Sad Café", so come and stay a while and meet these country folk.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jenny (Reading Envy)

    I always enjoy Carson McCullers and this collection was no different. The best two stories were the title story and Wunderkind. I went looking after I heard this bit from the title story: "...Every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole ne I always enjoy Carson McCullers and this collection was no different. The best two stories were the title story and Wunderkind. I went looking after I heard this bit from the title story: "...Every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world -- a world intense and strange, complete in himself." Carson McCullers always has the ability to elegantly make statements about the world in the midst of a smalltown story.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Lea

    3.5 Beautiful stories focused on odd characters that represent individual uniqueness of our experience that leads to existential loneliness. Stories explore relationship of that alienation and loneliness with alleviation of it in romantic love. Writing is atmospheric, nostalgic, melancholic.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    Note: Spoilers Ahead The novella "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" is a Southern Gothic work with eccentric, lonely characters in a rundown Georgia town. Miss Amelia Evans is a six foot two inch rugged woman. She's the owner of a general store, and does a bit of healing with herbs on the side to help the townspeople. They gossip about her ten day marriage to Marvin Macy which ended after she refused his sexual advances. Marvin left town for a life of crime, and landed in the penitentiary. A hunchback d Note: Spoilers Ahead The novella "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" is a Southern Gothic work with eccentric, lonely characters in a rundown Georgia town. Miss Amelia Evans is a six foot two inch rugged woman. She's the owner of a general store, and does a bit of healing with herbs on the side to help the townspeople. They gossip about her ten day marriage to Marvin Macy which ended after she refused his sexual advances. Marvin left town for a life of crime, and landed in the penitentiary. A hunchback dwarf, Lymon Willis, comes to the store professing to be Miss Amelia's cousin. Miss Amelia takes him in, and they turn the store into a bright cafe where the townspeople socialize. Although Lymon seems to be a parasite, Miss Amelia loves him and seems happy living with him. When Marvin gets out of jail, Lymon is fascinated by him and ignores Miss Amelia. A triangular love relationship is formed where the beloved does not love the person who loves them. Carson McCullers had a troubled marriage with her spouse who had a male lover. She would certainly understand the dynamics of a triangular relationship, and the devastation that could result. There are a wonderful pages in the book, too long to quote here, about the relationship between the beloved and the loved. The book also contained six short stories about love: "Wunderkind" is about a promising young pianist who loses her emotional feel for the music. (McCullers had taken piano lessons for years before giving it up when her piano teacher moved when her husband had a job relocation.) "The Jockey" focuses on the emotions felt by an older jockey when he sees the indifference of a group of businessmen to the news that his friend, a younger jockey, has a permanent injury. The businessmen are only concerned about money and winning, not personal tragedy. "Madame Zelensky and the King of Poland" is about a musician who tells exaggerated stories. Her real life has no time for anything but the music she loves, so she invents a personal life. "The Sojourner" tells about a man who sees his ex-wife and her new happy family. He realizes he needs a life with deeper meaning. "A Domestic Dilemma" involves a husband coming home from work to find his wife drunk again, and the children unattended. How much will his young, beloved children remember about her behavior, and can their marriage last? McCullers writes about the "immense complexity of love" in this story. "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud" shows a drunk man telling a paperboy about the science of love. After losing the love of a woman, he decided to start loving again on a small scale, loving a tree, a rock, a cloud. A sad story.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Josh

    (3.5) While reading McCullers, you feel an underlying sadness towards her characters. Whether it be their heartache and trying to find ways to cope with what life has given them or their random birth into a low class of society that has kept them in a state of ignorant bliss, you find that the characters speak to the reader, but not in an overwhelming way. That underlying sadness is sometimes so subtle that it doesn't quite make me feel as much as many others sad prose, hence why my rating isn't (3.5) While reading McCullers, you feel an underlying sadness towards her characters. Whether it be their heartache and trying to find ways to cope with what life has given them or their random birth into a low class of society that has kept them in a state of ignorant bliss, you find that the characters speak to the reader, but not in an overwhelming way. That underlying sadness is sometimes so subtle that it doesn't quite make me feel as much as many others sad prose, hence why my rating isn't higher. Don't get me wrong, her writing is top notch; put her side by side with many authors in the last 100 years and she'd probably be in the upper echelon of the category. All of these stories are generally good, but I'd recommend Wunderkind, The Sojourner and A Domestic Dilemma (my favorite) as the top 3 in this collection. The novella which the book is named for is nice, but could've easily been shortened for maximum effect.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Lotte

    The sensation of loneliness threads through Carson McCullers' short stories. It's fairly easy to associate McCullers' work with loneliness as it's literally in the title of her most famous novel, but I do think you're more than justified in doing so. The melancholia and longing entwined with loneliness permeate everything she writes about. Moments of alienation can be found in all of the stories in this collection — whether she writes about Miss Amelia, the enigmatic owner of the sad café, a hus The sensation of loneliness threads through Carson McCullers' short stories. It's fairly easy to associate McCullers' work with loneliness as it's literally in the title of her most famous novel, but I do think you're more than justified in doing so. The melancholia and longing entwined with loneliness permeate everything she writes about. Moments of alienation can be found in all of the stories in this collection — whether she writes about Miss Amelia, the enigmatic owner of the sad café, a husband coming home to his alcoholic wife or a teenage pianist, a "wunderkind" yearning for recognition. She perfectly dissects how the urge to connect with one another can go awry, which makes her stories feel very human somehow, very empathetic and moving. I can't wait to read more by her!

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