Sunday, June 17, 2012

All the King's Men

I seem to swing from one extreme to another. I left the childhood charm of the Hundred Acre Wood and am now embroiled in the political shenanigans in The South in the 1930s with Robert Penn Warren's All the Kings Men. It is a whopper of a tale coming in at 600 pages. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1947.

The copy I have is the Restored Version edited by Noel Polk, which has the main character named Willie Talos as the Boss, the name Warren used in his original manuscript. The Boss is better known as Willie Stark in the first published edition and in the movies. There have been two film versions - one in 1949 starring Broderick Crawford and another in 2006 starring Sean Penn.

Warren was born in Guthrie, Kentucky in 1905. He received degrees from, are you ready, Vanderbilt University, University of California at Berkeley, Yale University, and Oxford University where he was a Rhodes Scholar.  Quite an education. He was named poet laureate and won two Pulitzer Prizes for his poetry. He died in 1989.

I am surprised at how quickly I was drawn into the story which is narrated by former newspaperman and now the Boss's right-hand-man Jack Burden. The writing is superb - slow and sinuous like a Southern summer's day. It evokes perfectly the long red faces of the hard-scrabble farmers, the sweat-stained seersucker jackets of the townsmen, and the still-blazing evening sun setting over cotton fields and courthouses.

Here is a small sample:

I went on past the stables, which were build of log, but with a good tin roof, and leaned on the fence, looking off down the rise. Back of the barn the ground was washed and gullied some, with piles of brush chucked into the washes here and there to stop the process. As if it ever would. A hundred yards off, at the foot of the rise, there was a patch of woods, scrub oak and such. The ground must have been swampy down there, for the grass and weeds down there at the edge of the trees were lush and tropical green. Against the bare ground beyond it looked too green to be natural, the way the phony grass carpet the undertaker puts on the new grave to spare the feelings of the bereaved looks too green to be natural. I could see a couple of hogs lounging down there on their sides, like big gray blisters popped up out of the ground.

I think I am in for quite an experience.

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