This is a book of short stories that I have to admit I didn’t really enjoy. I found each story quite sad and depressing, and struggled with the style of them being just a snapshot of someone’s life with no beginning or conclusion as such.
The title story is about Miss Amelia who is a powerful but essentially friendless woman in an olde-worlde backward village, who (to the surprise of all the residents) befriends a hunchback who claims to be her distant relative. She seems to care for this man greatly, although the reader (along with the fellow residents) learns nothing about him, and she opens a café mainly in order to provide her new friend with company. Then her ex-husband arrives back into town, who is an angry and bitter criminal and determined to take everything Miss Amelia has. I found myself a little dissatisfied with this story as I felt we didn’t really find out anything about Miss Amelia and why she acted as she did or made the choices she did; it felt like we were one of her neighbours guessing at what she was thinking and feeling and seemed to be written from the neighbours’ perspective rather than from Miss Amelia’s perspective and I was frustrated I didn’t get any inkling of her motives or feelings. I also found it a sad story that brought me down.
I found the other stories similarly sad and pitiful, to be honest. Wunderkind is the story of a young girl struggling to deliver the early promise she showed at playing the piano and despairing with the pressure of this. The Jockey is about an unhappy jockey trying to deal with the guilt of an injured boy and his colleagues’ lack of sympathy. Madame Zilensky and The King of Finland is about a teacher who is a habitual liar. The Sojourner is about a lonely man who forgets it is his birthday, and when meeting with his ex-wife looks longingly at her contrasting life. A Domestic Dilemma is the story of a husband and father dealing with the worry of his wife’s alcoholic dependency and the danger this puts their children in. A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud is about a man whose wife left him but over the years was discovering what love really was.
All the stories seem sad and all seem to be just brief snapshots of someone’s life, like we’re looking in at the window of their living room – I’m sure lots of readers like this style of writing but I personally prefer to get to know a character and their background and why they’ve made the choices they’ve made, and I like to know a conclusion too of how their choices have affected them. This style of writing leaves me feeling detached from the characters. McCullers is obviously highly rated as an author, but I think not to my personal taste. The edition I read also gave details of McCullers’ life which I found interesting, and it seemed to me that she may have had a difficult and sad life herself with illnesses and broken relationships and suicide attempts, so I wonder if this had an effect on her choice of stories.
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe