This is another of my occasional reviews of notable vintage novels that did not make the bestseller lists when they were published. The Store won novelist T. S. Stribling a Pulitzer Prize for the Novel in 1933. A two-page illustrated biography of the author in pdf format is available from the Tennessee Literary Project.
Before the Civil War, Colonel Miltiades Vaiden was comfortably well off. Then he lost a year’s income when J. Handback declared bankruptcy the day Vaiden assigned him his cotton crop.
Vaiden’s fortunes haven’t recovered yet in 1884 when he learns Handback keeps a mistress, a former Vaiden slave named Gracie. Vaiden uses that knowledge to blackmail Handback into giving him a job in his store.
When Handback puts Vaiden in charge of the cotton bales, Vaiden sells them and pockets the proceeds, which he insists Handback owes him.
Though forced to return part of the money, Vaiden has enough to start his own store, invest in property, and think of himself as a Southern planter again.
Vaiden doesn’t realize the South’s future lies with shopkeepers not planters. And he certainly doesn’t see that children of former slaves like Gracie’s son, Touissant, are becoming a force to be reckoned with.
Although T. S. Stribling hangs his hangs together on a string of coincidences, they are plausible coincidences. Even Vaiden’s descent into crime is more happenstance than choice.
But interesting as the historical portrait is, it can’t compete with the fascination of Vaiden himself. He is, as his one-time fiancée says, “an outrageous man” who “stick[s] at nothing and regret[s] little.”
Miltiades Vaiden doesn’t just invent his own facts; he believes every word he fabricates.
Look for The Store.
You won’t begrudge the time you spend there.
by T[homas] S[igismund] Stribling
Original publication 1932 by Doubleday, Doran
Republished 1985 by The University of Alabama Press
with an introduction by Randy K. Cross
Photo credit: Natural Cotton 22 by robertz65
© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni