Sunday, September 25, 2011
By Erskine Caldwell
A collection of fourteen short stories set in rural Georgia in about the 1920s or 30s featuring the Stroup family consisting of 12-year-old William, his shiftless father Morris, his hard-working mother Martha and their unpaid servant/yard boy, Handsome Brown, an orphan.
The first story, My Old Man's Baling Machine sets the tone for the rest of the book. Morris Stroup buys a baling machine designed to bail up scrap paper which can then be sold. He is pretty sure he has hit upon an easy way to make lots of money. Trouble is finding enough paper to put in the bailer. He even goes so far as to rip the covers off brand new books and even toss his wife's recipe books and old love letters into the bailer, much to her extreme displeasure and distress.
The other stories are in a similar vein, with Morris Stroup's shenanigans as the main theme. But not to worry, Mrs. Stroup, long-suffering and put-upon as she may be, gets even with her worthless husband in the last story, My Old Man Hasn't Been the Same Since.
I think these stories are meant to be humorous but I found them to be rather sad, the way the father cheats his son, his wife and the yard boy. He takes what may be Handsome Brown's only possession, a banjo, and sells it to buy tickets to a nudey show at the carnival. He messes around with other women and disappears for days at a time without telling his wife where he will be. He destroys his wife's rocking chair because he is angry at her when she got upset that he came home drunk with a young woman on his arm. Maybe he is meant to be comical but I just found him repulsive. However, as much as I disliked Morris Stroup, I still enjoyed reading these stories as a trip back to a different, simpler time.