Wednesday 13 January 2021

 Inspirational People: No 2

Carson McCullers

It appears that I haven't posted a blog since 2019! The last being my Inspirational People: No1. It's not that I've run out of people who have influenced my life: it's that 'interesting times' have intervened and also I've been immersed in my first love in the writing world, short stories. Since going into lockdown and beyond I've written ten speculative fiction short stories and have enjoyed immensely the freedom of not having to write a novel to keep bread on the table. The bread has been purchased with my two pensions, neither of which are great, but happily bread is still quite inexpensive. There are a few royalties still coming in, in dribs and drabs, and the backlist is still selling to translations abroad. So, being incarcerated has its benefits, but oh, I do miss my travels to cloudless climes and starry skies. A trip to Goa has been paid for and is on hold, a trip to Switzerland, likewise. Then there's my little hideaway in La Herradura, Spain, which is feeling neglected. I stare out of my apartment window in the port of Felixstowe at the mighty container ships going in and out, and dream of exotic lands beyond the cold, grey waves of the North Sea.

However, to get to Carson McCullers, a writer of Southern Gothic tales. Now, you might think that with a name like that you would be looking at a pony express rider of the American west. In fact for those who are not familiar with McCullers she was indeed an American and yes, she was a she and not some dusty cowboy with a fast Pinto. Carson McCullers was an exceptionally brilliant writer of short novels and short stories. She rivals my all-time favourite short story writer, Julio Cortazar, who's next on my list of inspirers.

The first of her short novels which came to my attention is still the one I love the most: Ballad of the Sad Cafe. It's love triangle between a male dwarf (sic) called Cousin Lymon; Miss Amelia, a robust and tough cafe owner, feared by the townspeople; and Marvin Macy, who 'has been to Atlanta'. Macy is a vicious and cruel character who was once married to Miss Amelia. Miss Amelia falls in love with Cousin Lymon, who returns her affections until Marvin Macy comes back to the isolated small town. Almost immediately, Cousin Lymon falls in love with Marvin and his worldliness and keeps repeating, 'Oh, Marvin Macy, he has been to Atlanta.' Macy goes to prison and when he's released he goes back to physically fight with Miss Amelia. Amelia is on the point of winning the contest when Cousin Lymon leaps on her and allows Macy to get the better of her. The two men then ransack and rob the cafe of anything value and then leave the town. It's not the ending I would have chosen, but I am not the writer. What impressed the hell out of me and made me fall in love with the novel is the quality of the writing and the sense of backwoods folklore. It is like no other novel I have read, completely without parallel, and after I put the book down I raised a shrine to McCullers in my head and was determined to read everything she had written.

Carson McCullers was born in Columbus, Georgia, in 1917. Her first novel is The Heart is a Lonely Hunter. Again, the characters are a collection of misfits and pariahs in a deep South small town. Next came Reflections in a Golden Eye, which takes place in a military setting. The film starring Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor was excellent. After that The Member of the Wedding, where the reader is allowed to inspect the thoughts and dreams of a young girl attending her brother's wedding. The play of this novel had a long run on Broadway in the early 1950s.

Of her short stories, my favourite is The Jockey.

If you haven't read her, do try. The novels are short, so you don't have to plough through something as long as A Suitable Boy, to discover whether you like her writing. I have recommended her to others who have not found her work to their taste, but of course we all have different mental channels: some lead to marshes and bogs, while others happily lead to wide, blue oceans. I will always have a place in my heart for Carson McCullers' oeuvre and even as I write about those of her novels I read many years ago, I feel a thrill. 

Never without health problems Carson McCullers died at the age of 50 in Nyack, New York.