Outrageous man makes The Store worth revisiting

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.

Cotton Plant
Natural Cotton

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.

The Store
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
571 pages

Photo credit: Natural Cotton 22 by robertz65

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Mockingbird still sings sweetly

To Kill a Mockingbird is a rarity among novels: good literature that’s both interesting and easy to read. A best-seller in the U.S., it also won a Pulitzer prize for literature.

The book has two threads. First, is about  the Finch youngsters, Jem and his sister, called Scout, and their summer-vacation pal, Dill. They invent wild plans to lure the town’s recluse, Arthur “Boo” Radley into the open so they can see if he really is a monster.

The town’s older generation has its own monsters. When a black man is accused of raping a white girl, Atticus Finch is appointed to defend him—hardly an enviable position for a white lawyer in 1930s Alabama. His children soon hear the epithet “nigger-lover”—and worse.

From these two threads, Harper Lee weaves a story about what it means to be grown up enough to respect other people who are different from ourselves, whether they are a different color or a different class or just from some other place.

The film version of the book, starring Gregory Peck, faithfully depicts the plot and main theme of the novel, but it cannot possibly show the details and nuances that make the novel a classic.

If you haven’t read the novel in a while, get it out again. It’s definitely worth rereading.

To Kill a Mockingbird
By Harper Lee
Lippincott, 1960
296 pages
1961 bestseller #3
My grade: A

© 2011 Linda Gorton Aragoni