The best place now to browse at books is a charity shop. I may despair of the human race but it works to my benefit if people have no intention of opening the copy of the Classic some old aunt, three times removed, gave them for Christmas last year. The shelves of charity shops are brimming with literary gems. And long may it last – keep your Kathy Lette and throw out your Katherine Mansfield.
So, in a charity shop in Newark, I bought The Ballad of the Sad Café. I’ve given £1.50 towards the relief of some obscure skin disease, too.
What a discovery this was! This is a fantastic story about human nature and how fickle and unfair the human heart can be. Three unlikely characters form a love triangle. In its midst something tremendous is created; the café unites the whole town in the enjoyment of food and drink. At its denouement three lives are in tatters and there is only the shell of a building left to hint at what came before.
McCullers perfectly captures the Deep South small town atmosphere and captivates the reader with the style of her prose. She suggests what will come, then leads you back so that you are always on your toes.
I found the ending with the chain gang unsatisfactory. I wish she had stopped the story one page sooner. And too much has, in my view, been made of ‘the battle of the sexes.’ Miss Amelia fights Marvin Macy out of hate and desperation, not because she wants to prove that women are stronger than men.
The book contains six short stories as well as the eponymous novella. They are well-written but do not come close to the standard of the major work here.
The Ballad of the Sad Café is one of the best stories I have read all year. Please, people, throw out more like this!