Sunday, July 6, 2014

Say It With A Book #4 | The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories by Carson McCullers

Guest Book Reviewer | Sheryl Darlene Lao

The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories is a collection of Carson McCuller’s best stories. The collection includes 7 stories below, the highlight of which is her novella “The Ballad of the Sad Café.” 

1. The Ballad of the Sad Café – 

McCullers sets the tone of her collection with the haunting tale of a human love triangle between three unlikely characters: the formidable Miss Amelia Evans, the freakishly grotesque Cousin Lymon, and the troublesome handsome Marvin Macy. With the unlikely characters, comes an unlikely story as well. 
Even with such strange characters, McCullers was able to draw me in because of her beautiful prose and genuine writing style. Though bizarre, her bare all honesty sells the characters for who they really are. McCullers was able to capture the essence of unrequited love, the pain and the glory in the below quote, she writes: 
"It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare the beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.”
2. Wunderkind

First published a story written by the author when she was just 17 years old, “Wunderkind” is about the portrayal of a musical prodigy’s struggle and futile attempt to become a great pianist. Through a vivid snapshot of a typical day in the life of the girl pianist, the reader is taken inside the heart of a struggling pianist.

This story made me ponder about the classic nature versus nurture argument. Passionate people are admirable; especially people who are passionate about their own craft and work hard at it. However, there are instances you encounter people who it would seem are naturally born and made to be geniuses in their craft and there are those who are talented but it would also seem will never be talented enough to rise above? I go for hard work, passion, and dedication but I also believe that there are those who were born to do what they do greatly.

3.  The Jockey

The Jockey features a sports man’s inability to cope with a colleague’s injury. It tackles realities that knock us off with how uncertain our future can be and pushes us to reflect where we are and where we want to be in our lives.

4. Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland

This is about a music teacher in a university and the slow discovery of her strange ways. Madame Zilensky’s mundane life leads her to create a more colorful and acceptable world. This is one of the stories which touch on humor in the midst of life’s absurdities. 

5. The Sojourner

This is about a man’s chance encounter with her former wife which leads to dinner with his former wife, a new husband and their son. You can never get away with your past; it would always be part of who you are. When faced with our own past, to which the best reminders are the people from our own past, we often get pressured to retain the “old” us when we feel that the “new” us isn’t at par. We forget though that change is inevitable and it is an acceptable reality that people from our past are willing to accept.

6. A Domestic Dilemma

An unconventional family where the father is forced to take on the role of the mother as his wife struggles with alcoholism. This is about keeping a family together and how ultimately it is the loyalties and love at the core of what binds a family together. A particular scene gets to me when the father asks himself how it seems the children are unaffected with their situation and fearfully prays that this won’t be so when they grow up. 

7. A Tree – a Rock – a Cloud 

The science of love according to the author is to go about it step by step. Love should be a gradual process and it is by starting to love the little things that we can set ourselves to love greatly.

I’m definitely a fan of McCuller’s writing. I can say she is a melancholic writer and it works for me. I find there is beauty in loneliness and unhappiness because it is the rawest emotion. A must-read! If you're not into short stories, you can try her novel “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter” and if you didn't get the hint from the title, I warn you, be prepared for depression. 

Book Details:
Title: The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories
Publisher: Mariner Books
Publication: April 5, 2005 (January 1, 1951)
Genre: Fiction, Short stories
Rating: ★★★★★

About Sheryl Darlene Lao:

Hi. I'd like you to meet one of TFG's shyest and sweetest member. 

TPW:  What is your favorite genre?  
Sheryl:  Currently, off the top of my head would be Young Adult, Literary and Children’s. Literary feeds on my love for words and just the sheer pleasure of seeing them stringed together so beautifully always reminds me how great it is to read books while Young Adult and Children’s would be my all-time feel good comfort reads.

TPW:  How would you define yourself as a reader?
Sheryl:  I'm a hodgepodge reader. I just go by feeling most of the time. You can easily recommend any type of book and if it piques my interest, I would surely give it a shot. Note, however, that I’m a slow reader but a certified book hoarder. Just dare to imagine my TBR pile! 
TPW:  Thank you for sharing this book with us, Sheryl! ♥


  1. Wow. I keep ignoring this book. Now it got my attention. Thanks for the review, Sheryl. I miss you!

  2. I really enjoy this feature, Ms. Louize. This recommendation certainly makes me want to find book copies of Carson McCullers. I first heard of her through Oprah's selection of The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Along with Flannery O'Connor, she's one of the Southern Gothic authors I'd really want to read.