‘The Ballad of the Sad Café’ by Carson McCullers

Carson McCullers was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1917.
 
In many ways, Carson McCullers’ ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café’ reads as a revision of Faulkner’s most-anthologized tale, ‘A Rose for Emily.’ We have a brooding protagonist, a one-time scion alienated from her community. We have an outsider coming to town, disrupting the order of things.
 
In either case, we’re back at the freak show. Miss Amelia Evans was a rich girl. Now she’s a tall lady. Preferring a sexless life, she kicks her lusty husband Marvin Macy out of her shabby mansion, sending him on a crime spree. Miss Amelia’s a shrewd one, part medicine lady, part bootlegger, possessing secret knowledge of potions and the like—a witchy woman. A trickster comes to town, an odd hunchbacked dwarf who claims to be long-lost Cousin Lymon. Miss Amelia falls for his story and then, to the shock of the nosy townsfolk, falls in love with him. Soon, she opens a café, and it’s a happy place–but not for long. Marvin Macy returns after a stint in the penitentiary. Cousin Lymon falls deeply in love with him. Tragic chaos ensues. ‘The Ballad of the Sad Café’ is a twisted fairy tale, a parable that resists a clear object lesson. Or maybe the lesson is clear: love is hard.

First published in The Ballad of the Sad Café, Houghton Mifflin, 1951

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