Book #03

The Ballad of the Sad Caféby Carson McCullers

In The Ballad of the Sad Café, a tale of unrequited love, Miss Amelia, a spirited, unconventional woman, runs a small-town store and, except for a marriage that lasted just ten days, has always lived alone. Then Cousin Lymon appears from nowhere, a little, strutting hunchback who steals Miss Amelia's heart. Together they transform the store into a lively, popular café. But when her rejected husband Marvin Macy returns, the result is a bizarre love triangle that brings with it violence, hatred and betrayal.

Six stories by Carson McCullers also appear in this volume.

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe is a title to be considered. Beautiful, melancholy, and posing many questions, it just seems to spark of McCullers. I’d never known a cafe to be described as sad until I met Amelia and the hunchback. And the tale is so oddly whimsical and so utterly perfect that it will remain a sad cafe in my mind for a very long time.

There is something about this slow life in the south that makes me feel oddly nostalgic and bereft. I’ve never been anywhere like McCullers describes; I am around 4,000 miles away from her world, and yet I feel as though I know these people, I recognise their way of living, and I want to go home. I’m not sure whether this is down to the skill of McCullers, or whether it’s the fact that I am a complete fantasist, but the feeling was welcome.

The other stories in this collection were a jarring move away from our usual setting, yet still focusing on the lives of those we could deem to be troubled, lonely, or destitute. A young girl sees her classmate exceed himself further than she’ll ever be able to, a jockey inexpertly navigates his anger over his friend being injured, a young boy receives a lecture on how to love. It was all gorgeous, all of it.

I could say much about her plot, her characters, her style, her engagement, and yet I feel unequal to the task. McCullers is a literary heavyweight to me, an unparalleled enigma who I choose to appreciate rather than analyse. Her stories evoke feelings in me which are simply just there to be enjoyed; I don’t take any pleasure in deeper analysis.

McCullers’ talent is clear here. She’s a master at displaying tortured souls, exposing their shame, their loneliness, their hearts. They are engaging, lovable, and entirely flawed, human beings depicted perfectly for all of their good and bad parts. I think this is what I love most - the depth of feeling, the complexity of people, and the unbridled explorations into the human condition.