A Man in Full

Eye peeps through hole in dust jacket
Charlie behind things in Atlanta.

After a slow start, Tom Wolfe builds A Man in Full into a riveting, multifaceted story that shatters into shards in the final chapter.

The central character is Charlie Crocker, a good ol’ boy who use his football prowess to get access to Atlanta’s wealthy elite where by salesmanship—which Charlie believes is synonymous with manhood—he built a commercial empire.

As the story opens, Charlie is in his sixties and in deep financial trouble.

Another story-line is about Conrad Hensley, an employee in one of Charlie’s warehouses, who is trying to raise himself by his bootstraps.

A third story-line is about Atlanta’s black mayor’s attempt to prevent racial incidents over rumors—no charges have been filed—that a black, Georgia Tech football player raped the daughter one of the city’s leading white establishment figures.

Wolfe is funny in an ugly, wise-cracking way. He ridicules Charlie for his lack of education and sophistication and mocks Charlie’s ex-wife for being hurt by people who cut her because she’s been replaced.

There’s no middle class in Wolfe’s picture. He contrasts blotches of poverty, prisons, and hopelessness with shimmering wealth, self-indulgence, and conspicuous consumption.

The world of A Man in Full is interesting to read but unpleasant to contemplate.

Book is bound so Charlie Crocker is behind everything
Front of dust jacket has a hole through which Charlie Crocker on the novel’s cover looks out.
A Man in Full by Tom Wolfe
Farrar, Straus, Giroux. ©1998. 742 p.
1998 bestseller #4; my grade: B+

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

God’s Little Acre

Never prosperous even in the best of times, during the Great Depression Ty Ty Walden and his extended family are trying to get by in rural Georgia on nothing but libido, hostility, and holes.

Dust jacket of God's Little Acre, first edition.Ty Ty has turned over to black sharecroppers the responsibility for the cotton and vegetable crops on which the family depends.

Ty Ty, his son Shaw and son-in-law Buck spend their days digging for gold.

They’ve dug up most of the farm except God’s Little Acre, the proceeds of which Ty Ty has devoted to the church.

Whenever Ty Ty gets a feeling that the mother lode lies beneath God’s Little Acre, he moves the boundaries of the acre.

Believing in “scientific” knowledge that albinos have miraculous powers to find gold, Ty Ty and the boys capture an albino they learn is working nearby.

Ty Ty summons daughter Rosamond and her husband, Will, an unemployed mill worker, to come help them dig in the place the albino points out.

Will and Buck have never gotten along.

Buck thinks, correctly, that Will is after his wife, Griselda.

Shaw thinks whatever Buck thinks.

It’s not long before the three men come to blows.

Ty Ty, Rosamund, and Griselda go to wheedle money from another of Ty Ty’s sons, Jim Leslie.

Jim Leslie abandoned his father’s gold-diggings for real estate investments.

One look at Griselda, and Jim Leslie is determined to have her.

There are more characters and more couplings, but you get the idea. By comparison to God’s Little Acre, Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a a moral treatise.

Ty Ty sums up the point of the novel thus:

God put us in the bodies of animal and tried to make us act like people. That was the beginning of trouble. If He had made us like we are, and not called us people, the last one of us would know how to live. A man can’t live, feeling himself from the inside, and listening to what the preachers say. He can’t do both, but he can do one or the other. He can live like we were made to live, and feel himself on the inside or he can live like the preachers say, and be dead on the inside….When you try to take a woman or a man and hold him off all for yourself, there ain’t going to be nothing but trouble and sorrow the rest of your days.

The term God’s little acre has come to stand for hypocrisy, setting aside something worthless for God while living without any regard for Him.

That really doesn’t fit the novel.

The Waldens shouldn’t be called hypocrites: They haven’t enough moral sense to rise that far.


This is one of GreatPenformances’ occasional reviews of notable novels that didn’t make the bestseller lists. First published in 1933, God’s Little Acre  didn’t make the bestseller list or win a Pulitzer Prize, but Erskine Caldwell’s novel has become an American classic.  The edition I read: God’s Little Acre by Erskine Caldwell.  The Modern Library, 1961. 303 pp.

Lamb in His Bosom Is Warm in Hard Times

lambCaroline Miller’s Lamb in His Bosom is a tale of women in the Georgia-Florida woods country in the 1800s when time was measured in tombstones.  These women endured incredible hardship to raise families.

Cean Carver is a pretty 16-year-old when she marries Lonzo Smith and moves to the farm he’s clearing for the family they are to raise.

While Lonzo goes to plant, Cean cares for the cabin, garden and animals before gladly joining him under the baking sun. They are poor, but Cean feels herself rich.

Children are born.

Before the first son, a series of girls, worthless as farm laborers, are born. Cean ages by years with every birth.

When Lonzo dies, Cean is left with 14 children to raise.

She marries a preacher newly come to the settlement. Cean hasn’t gotten used to her new name when her husband goes off to minister to soldiers in blue and gray. When he limps home after Appomattox, they are both white-haired and old.

Miller’s novel leaves a lasting impression of wiry women made indomitable by faith. In ordinary times, their faith is as unconsidered as breathing. In trouble, they “throw . . . back into God’s eternal face” His promise to never forsake them.

They are lambs in His bosom.

Lamb in His Bosom
By Caroline Miller
Grosset & Dunlap, 1933
345 pages
1932 bestseller #2
My grade B+

Photo credit: Lamb by magdaro

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Nuanced picture of race relations keeps Strange Fruit contemporary

Interracial couple closeup in monochrome.
Strange Fruit is a simple love story in a setting where nothing is simple.

The girl is Nonnie Anderson, tall, lovely, college-educated. Her family can’t understand why she stays in her dead-end town working as caregiver for a retarded child.

The reason is Tracy Deen, an aimless college drop-out seething with resentment because his mother liked his sister best.

When Nonnie tells Tracy she’s pregnant, his response is predictable: He doesn’t want to think about it.

None of this would be more than mildly interesting except that Nonnie is black, Tracy is white, and they live in 1940s’ Georgia. The sun beats mercilessly, humidity rises, people get edgy, and sounds of a tent evangelist call white sinners to immunity within the church.

Lillian Smith, who lived most of her life in Georgia, knows all the nuances of race relations in the South. She shows us that race is only one factor in race relations. Poverty, education, anti-Yankee sentiment, and religion all play a role.

But the most important factor is human choice.

Our society still hasn’t come to grips with the issues Smith raises in Strange Fruit— all the more reason to read this marvelous 1944 novel today.

Strange Fruit
By Lillian Smith
Harcourt, Brace, 1944
250 pages
1944 Bestseller #1
My grade = A

Photo credit: Black ‘n White Uploaded by alfredo-9

© 2014 Linda Gorton Aragoni