McCullers is at her best when her stories are about adolescents (almost always motherless, often gender-bending, and with a father who’s a jeweler) on the cusp of change. But I loved immersing myself in her world in every story.
This collection of short pieces culminates with MEMBER OF THE WEDDING; but I’ve read that very recently, so it wasn’t time for a re-read. For me it culminated with BALLAD OF THE SAD CAFE. This is a very sad piece (as the title warns) featuring a grotesque cast of characters and a miserable ending. It is not “my thing”; but it was still a story to grab me by the throat, and it provided all of the collection’s best quotes.
“It is known that if a message is written with lemon juice on a clean sheet of paper there will be no sign of it. But if the paper is held for a moment to the fire then the letters turn brown and the meaning becomes clear. Imagine that the whiskey is fire and that the message is that which is known only in the soul of a man – then the worth of Miss Amelia’s liquor can be understood.”
“The atmosphere of a proper cafe implies these qualities: fellowship, the satisfactions of the belly, and a certain gaiety and grace of behavior.” That should be put on a sign and sold to cafe owners everywhere.
“In order to come into the cafe you did not have to buy the dinner, or a portion of liquor. There were cold bottled drinks for a nickel. And if you could not even afford that, Miss Amelia had a drink called Cherry Juice which sold for a penny a glass… There, for a few hours at least, the deep bitter knowing that you are not worth much in this world could be laid low.” ( )