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The Ballad of the Sad Cafe: and Other Stories Paperback – April 5, 2005

4.2 out of 5 stars 77 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Carson McCullers (1917-1967) was the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, The Member of the Wedding, Reflections in a Golden Eye, and Clock Without Hands. Born in Columbus, Georgia, on February 19, 1917, she became a promising pianist and enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music in New York when she was seventeen, but lacking money for tuition, she never attended classes. Instead she studied writing at Columbia University, which ultimately led to The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, the novel that made her an overnight literary sensation. On September 29, 1967, at age fifty, she died in Nyack, New York, where she is buried.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Mariner Books (April 5, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0618565868
  • ISBN-13: 978-0618565863
  • Product Dimensions: 4.9 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (77 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,197 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is a limpid, beautiful story, wonderfully told. The whole setting exemplifies Southern Gothic from the word go: "The town itself is dreary; not much is there except the cotton-mill, the two-room houses where the workers live, a few peach trees, a church with two coloured windows, and a miserable main street only a hundred yards long."
I was hooked by the beginning, evoking dilapidation, isolation, heat, distress and latent fear/weirdness. Much has been written on McCullough's "lover and beloved" theme, well explored here. The characters are an unforgettable collection of weirdos, still, somehow, typically American; the descriptions are poetic. In general the writing rings true, is economic yet lyrical - nothing is wasted.
Great as "The Great Gatsby", in its way. Much better than "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter". It lives up to its title, truly a "ballad" - a songlike story. And the ballad of the mixed-race chain gang that ends it ties the story to the South.
I was sorry to finish it! Utterly compelling.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
In The Ballad of the Sad Café, McCullers displays her most vivid example of unrequited love with the triangle created by the story's three main characters. The American Heritage Dictionary defines a ballad as "a narrative poem, often of folk origin and intended to be sung, consisting of simple stanzas and usually having a recurrent refrain." Miss Amelia's love for Cousin Lymon, Cousin Lymon's love for Marvin Macy, and Marvin Macy's love for Miss Amelia can be seen as this refrain. It is with this love triangle that McCullers delineates her brilliant observation of the relationship between the lover and the beloved. She describes love "as a joint experience between two persons," but explains that the experience is often very different for those involved. The lover has a store of love that needs to be projected; the object of this love is incidental. It is the love itself that must be spent, and "the value and quantity of any love is determined solely by the lover himself."

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 is the Enthusiastic Taker, while the beloved is expected to be the Reluctant Giver. The three characters in the story are doubly tragic, because they inhabit, at one time or another, both roles. Miss Amelia is the most sympathetic "point" of the triangle. Because her harsh treatment of Marvin Macy is in the past, she is unable to undo it. Her role as beloved came about without the lesson she learns as the lover of Cousin Lymon.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
McCullers' captures the essence and delicacies of love in "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe." Three highly unusual lovers attempt to understand their feelings and desires. Each lover becomes a beloved and nothing seems to work positively. But look more closely: The real lover is the unidentified narrator, who painfully (as experienced by a lover) tells the story. The other stories included in the book magnify and enhance McCullers' universal concept of love and the loneliness and isolation of every lover. This is truly a book to read and enjoy. Then, think about it!
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Format: Paperback
The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories collects Carson McCullers's classic novella with the unfortunately small number of short stories that she wrote in her short life.

The novella is set in a small Georgia town and McCullers sets the tone of the place right away, with her first words: "The town itself is dreary;..." We are introduced to Miss Amelia, a hard-nosed and solitary woman who owns a general store. Miss Amelia was married once, long ago, to a man named Marvin Macy. Marvin was town's trouble-maker, but his love for Miss Amelia transformed him. He turned into a kind and gentle soul with her. But the marriage only lasted ten days, after which she ran him off. He then reverted to his old ways, running around the state robbing and stealing, until he ends up in the penitentiary.

In the present day, a hunchback named Lyman walks into town and tells Miss Amelia that he's her cousin. To the surprise of the town's residents, she takes in Cousin Lyman. Soon, the town begins to see changes in her. Like her ex-husband under the influence of love, she too becomes a kinder and gentler person. She turns her store into a café where the townspeople can meet. A sense of pride develops in the small town. But then one day a bitter Marvin Macy returns to town for his revenge.

This meditation on love is wonderful, McCullers's writing clear and poetic. I love how she often pauses to muse on a theme to better ground her story in them. She writes openly and beautifully of love, ("Often the beloved is only stimulus for all the stored-up love which has lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto....The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved.
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