I was trying to take this photo when Hercaloo ran down my arm to pose for the camera. She has turned into a little camera hog.
Since this review is about a Southern writer and his contribution to Southern literature I thought it appropriate to listen to some Hillbilly Blue Grass. The song is Oh Death performed by Ralph Stanley.
The Circus in the Attic and Other Stories by Robert Penn Warren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Circus in the Attic and Other Stories is a collection of stories by Robert Penn Warren. Warren is mostly known for his novel All The King's Men, which won him the Pullitzer Prize.
All of the stories in this book present a colorful picture of Southern Culture from the Post Civil War era to the Depression, both time periods that afflicted the South with profound poverty. Many of his stories focus on individual people inside that climate of poverty and reconstruction, which was occurring in the south. The stories are valuable for that attribute alone.
They are also stories that paint a portrait of a man's dreams and how they are shaped and impacted by his relationship with his family inside his community at specific epochs of time.
All the stories are from the viewpoint of a man who has aspirations that are usually defeated by a domineering mother or wife, often a faithless wife. Because this premise is built into the majority of the stories in this collection one gathers that perhaps they are based on the author's life.
The first story is Circus in the Attic. The protagonist expresses his dreams by secretly creating a tiny model circus in his attic while carrying on his mediocre life as a teacher, movie ticket taker, while writing his "great novel" that is never finished...and also caring for his sickly mother who takes decades to finally pass away.
When she does die, he marries a widow, and when her son goes off to war the man gains some notoriety in giving speeches supporting the war effort. In the end, the son is killed in the war, his wife is killed in a car with another man and our protagonist is left alone. He no longer even has his circus to comfort him because he sold the pieces off at auction for the war effort.
This story is the longest in the book, starting at the Civil War and ending with WWII. Through the years, we see, as the man ages, the Southern landscape changing dramatically as reconstruction and wars make their mark.
The other stories have similar themes, although some deal with poor white people living in the hills, others with towns folk, all from a Southern perspective, allowing the reader to gain insight into how the South survived the devastating effects of a lost war, years of poverty and grew out of the stump, so to speak.
The last story, Prime Leaf is the most frightening because of the evil it exposes in small town politics where not even family members are safe from lynch mobs or each other.
If you are interested in the history of the South, plus the good writing of a man expressing his own struggles and heartbreak against personal demons, then you will enjoy reading this book.
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For more information on Robert Penn Warren click on the following links.