books All the King’s Men –

, First off, I would nominate this book as one highly in need of a much improved cover design That being said, it perfectly fits the old adage about judging a book by it s mundane cover I love it when a book surprises me and the dread of reading it club choice turns into excitement The back page blurb praises it as a Pulitzer Prize winner following the political career of Willie Stark, a fictional character loosely based on that of Huey Kingfish Long a post Depression Era Louisiana governor Stark who starts out as a refreshingly idealistic man of the people ultimately ends up caught in a web of the corruption often associated with power So yes, it s a precautionary tale, but perhaps even about the life of Jack Burden, a sort of every man who works for Stark in a holding it all together capacity and learns a lot of life lessons the hard way Though cited on the cover as THE definitive novel about American Politics NYTimes I was happy to find it is written in a descriptive old classic format which makes it truly an enjoyable read If you read it remember it was published in 1946, as it is very filled with characters who have stereotypical notions of the time meaning racist and very sexist including our narrator who though interesting enough, is not always easy to like Anyway to my total surprise , I m giving this book a five star rating and thanking whomever it was who chose this as an April Selection for On The Southern Literary Trail Great choice Timely note The 2006 audience rated 4 star movie with Sean Penn, Jude Law, and Kate Winslet will be on Starz 4 25 and 4 26 I watched it on and quite enjoyed it since I liked the book There is an earlier movie that is supposed to be very good thanks Diane B but that I cannot readily find. Man is conceived in sin and born in corruption and he passeth from the stink of the didie to the stench of the shroud Robert Penn WarrenRobert Penn Warren is the only person to win the Pulitzer prize for fiction as well as poetry He won the prize for fiction in 1946 for this very book If you are lucky enough to have a great aunt who reads, and bought a lot of books in the 1940s, you might take a gander at her books some time and see if she has a first edition, first printing of this book in her library First edition, First printing of the 1946 editionDepending on the condition of the dust jacket a true first will bring anywhere from 2,000 to 7,000 It will be up to you if you decide to liberate the book, tucking it under your shirt, and sneaking it out with the paper bag of home made oatmeal cookies she always sends you home with If you are not a natural felon you might just say hey auntie couldn t you tuck this in a safety deposit box and put my name on it The last time I was in New Orleans they were shooting the new movie version of All the King s Men We sat in a little cafe across from where they were setting up a shoot hoping for a glimpse of one of the marquee actors involved in the production No luck, just film crew people bustling around trying to build a street scene We were anxious to explore the little bookshops and artist galleries in the French Quarter, so we left before seeing anything truly interesting I have not seen the 1949 or 2006 film versions From the reviews I skimmed, both movies seem to struggle to capture the true essence of the book I m not surprised, even if they put the book through a small holed strainer, they would still have way material than what a standard length movie can handle 1949 Movie Poster 2006 Movie PosterJack Burden, newspaper reporter, finds himself following around an ambitious, well meaning, but naive candidate named Willie Stark A man hand picked to split the vote in the primary and insure the nomination of the customary corrupt, crony, politician that Louisiana is famous for Stark is the only person who is unaware that the fix is on He is stumping and receiving discouraging indifference from his crowds as he tries to tell them the truth As he finds himself on the ropes than he is in the ring, he starts to understand that to be successful he will have to give the crowds what they want He replaces substance with hyperbole, and Burden observes the emergence of a candidate and the corruption of an honest man Warren based Stark on the dynamic personage of Louisiana governor Huey P Long Huey P LongBurden soon finds himself unemployed, but Stark always liked him and gave him a prominent position on his staff Stark, though soundly defeated, uses the time between elections to become a polished orator and electable candidate Burden studied for a history degree in college and believes from his studies that truth will always win out As he becomes ensnared in the shady activities of Governor Stark s administration he starts to stumble over his own high ideas of the worthiness of truth He tries to convince himself that he just does what the boss wants him to do What the boss does with the information he brings him has nothing to do with him, but the longer he is involved, and the people he knows who become victims of Stark s ambition the less distance he can claimI didn t mean to cause any ruckus I didn t think And all the while that cold, unloving part of the mind that maiden aunt, that washroom mirror the drunk stares into, that still small voice, that maggot in the chess of your self esteem, that commentator on the ether nightmare, that death s head of lipless rationality at your every feast all that while that part of the mind was saying You re making it worse, your lying is just making it worse, can t you shut up, you blabbermouth Burden is in love with Anne Stanton, his childhood friend and the daughter of a previous governor Briefly they are an item and then they drift apart Burden marries Lois, the woman who has thepeach bloom of cheeks, the pearly ripe but vigorous bosom, the supple midriff, the brooding, black, velvety liquid eyes, the bee stung lips, the luxurious thighsDespite these attributes they have different goals and different ambitions and the elephant in the room is the fact that Jack is still in love with Anne He becomes close friends with Anne again He can t help but make allusions to the fact that his marriage proposal is still on the table Even though she is 35 and never been married she continues to dance around the issue Burden can t ever see her as just a friendIt was Anne Stanton herself, who stood there in the cool room of the looking glass, above the bar barricade of bright bottles and siphons across some distance of blue carpet, a girl well, not exactly a girl any , a young woman about five feet four with the trimmest pair of nervous ankles and smallish hips which, however, looked as round as though they had been turned on a lathe, and a waist just the width to make you wonder if you could span it with your hand, and all of this done up in a swatch of gray flannel which pretended to a severe mannish cut but actually did nothing but scream for attention to some very unmannish arrangements within Stark still sees himself as one of the good guys despite the number of men he has felt compelled to destroyed He came to the conclusion that it was better to destroy them than to bribe them If he bribes them he still has to keep those untrustworthy associates in his organization If he destroys them they can no longer thwart his ambitious aims He is on a self imposed mission to use the corrupt system, but use it for goodGoodness Yeah, just plain, simple goodness Well you can t inherit that from anybody You got to make it If you want it And you got to make it out of badness Badness And you know why Because there isn t anything else to make it out of When Burden experiences the ultimate betrayal it hit me like a left hook coming out of the smokey darkness of an Oklahoma bar I never saw it coming and I had to stagger away from the book for a while Jack took 8 days and ran away to California I took thirty minutes to go stand out on my deck and let some fresh air sort my scattered thoughts.There is a whole marvelous section on Cass Mastern, Jack s relative, who provides a colorful history for Jack to research for his PHD I almost need a separate review to handle the intricate betrayals explored by Warren in that section I notice that the departure from the main story line bothered other reviewers I just thought I d been handed another thick seam of gold to be mined I like history and I especially like family history, so I didn t mind the story in the story at all Political cynicism wrapped in lyrical prose makes this one of the fascinating books I ve read in many, many years It is an honest book, exposing all the worst elements of human behavior We are so good at fooling ourselves into thinking that when we do wrong for the greater good we are still on the side of the angels Highly recommended If anyone has any political novels that they love, and feel I should read, please send me your recommendations If you wish to see of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit also have a Facebook blogger page at Compelling, overstuffed, overplotted, sexist, labyrinthine, poetic, atmospheric To me this book s status as The Great American Political Novel seems like a terrific bitter joke, because the author s vision of politics is comprised entirely of blackmail, physical intimidation, pork barreling, rabble rousing, nepotism, bribery, rigged elections, and hilariously contrived family values photo shoots I love the scene where a photographer and two aides attempt to wrestle a comatose, foul smelling dog into position for a shot of the dog leaping up to greet its beloved master, the Governor I would place this novel in the Philosophical Potboiler genre together with East of Eden and Sophie s Choice There are lengthy meditations on the Human Condition, the nature of History, the problem of Free Will, the Original Sin of slavery as a hereditary taint corrupting the southern upper class, etc woven among scenes featuring such archetypes as the Angelic Woman Anne Stanton , the Demonic Woman Sadie Burke, and Cass Mastern s mistress , the Saintly Aesthete and Crypto Homosexual Adam Stanton , the Seductive Mother, the Colonel Sanders With a Secret Judge Irwin , and What s Bred in the Bone Coming Out in the Flesh Tom Stark, the embodiment of his father s egoism and brutality In the ranks of minor characters we find the Long Suffering Wife in the Country Mrs Stark , and Flannery O Connor style Mad Missionary Jack s father What an array There are a number of rather heavy handed themes, of which I thought the most interesting was the contrast between Jack the self identified student of history and product of History, and Willie the man without a history no family, no formal education, no tradition, nothing to explain his ambition, charisma, ruthlessness, and power over others There seems to be a trade off between History and Act Jack is Burdened by the past at every level his parents broken marriage, his half mad father, his unfinished dissertation, the end of the plantation class s reign in Southern politics, the guilt of slavery He lives in a fog of depression, cynicism, sophistication, and rationalization He is fascinated by Willie at their first meeting because Willie is his opposite an earnest rube who seems unaware of his own dorkiness and believes the political game could and should be played fair But Willie isn t just a naif He s also a kind of monster Even at that early stage there s a monstrous ego and ambition germinating inside him ambition not for political goals but for personal power and domination Where does his ambition come from What sets Willie apart from any other impoverished child of dirt farmers in any other wretched little town like Mason City And which side is the true Willie Stark the idealist who fights on behalf of poor farmers and families, the builder of new roads and schools and hospitals, or the bully who fights for the sadistic joy of humiliating and dominating others These mysteries haunt the novel, and Penn Warren never offers a solution Willie remains an enigma from start to finish In fact I felt that Penn Warren wrote himself into a corner he COULDN T solve the enigma of Willie Stark s origins and essential nature, so he shifted focus to the solvable mysteries in Jack Burden s past.I don t think the Jack Burden plot has aged particularly well It has the kind of heavy handed Freudianism you see in 1950s movies the seductive mother, the discovery of the True Father the taboo of virginity the sorting of women into angels and whores, spirits and bodies Almost every character has at least one light or dark double Willie Jack, Willie Adam, Jack Adam, Sadie Ann, Burden Irwin, Lois Ann, etc , which is very schematic The happy ending is only achieved by the death disappearance of everyone but Jack and Ann they don t so much overcome or escape the Burden of history as have history conveniently relax its grip on them. This was a wonderful book I listened to it on Audible, but it was so well written that I have ordered hard copy as well The story of Willie Stark and Jack Burden which are the same story as the narrator says is both poignant and realistic Seen through the cynical and poetic eyes of Burden, the Southern cronyism of Huey Long is parodied here and honestly reminds me of recent and current American political history The writing is absolutely spectacular Penn Warren is the only person ever to win Pulitzers for both Fiction and Poetry and even his prose here is chock full of vivid images and analogies I loved all the characters Sugarboy, Ann and Adam Stanton, the Judge, Jack s mother, Sadieeach one is perfectly crafted even when they are somewhat one dimensional, there is still humanity in each of them The one negative is the use of the n word, but I suppose that Jack would have spoken this way and that back in 46 when it was written, attitudes were definitely different That being said, Jack does seem to take some offense at how blacks are treated he is less obliging about women in my view , despite his nihilism towards everyone and everything else The side story of Cass was excellent as well There is almost nothing to fault in this book and it deserves a place up with the greatest American 20th century fiction Five stars hands down.