The 15-Minute Pulitzers
As I was reading the last page and a half of T. S. Stribling’s 1933 Pulitzer-crowned novel, The Store, I had an urge to flip back to the beginning (once I had read the last word, of course) and begin again. That’s a mighty good feeling.
I made several notes as I was reading, and should I consult them now, I’m sure I could find a few worth talking about. But I think the main thing I want to say . . . wait that would give away the end. Let me just say that the characters of Jerry Catlin, Miltiades Vaiden, and the immediate post-bellum American South in general achieve a grand sort of tragic nature. Sympathy for them spills from me even now, even though Stribling doesn’t pull too many punches in his portrayal of the nature of the value system they hold to. Stribling makes this emotional response possible by humanizing the situations, managing to show that these characters are in many ways their own worst enemy, suffering imparted to them through their own misguided mindsets.
For me this was a novel of ambivalence. People who I found myself cheering for, expecting good things from, espoused some awful ideas. I suppose that Stribling had the right personal history for writing such a story. He was born in 1881 in Tennessee, a former state of the Confederacy. Stribling’s father was a veteran of the Civil War who had fought for the Union and his mother had been a Waits, a family that had fought for the Confederacy. This conflicted personal background and a coming of age in a conflicted, wounded country seems to have conditioned Stribling to take nothing for granted.
Stribling’s novel made me laugh out loud at least a couple of times, made me count the number of pages several times (it vies for the title of “Longest Pulitzer Thus Far”), and kept me coming back with an eagerness to engage with the story that I can’t quite explain. I suppose I will just have to attribute that to the abstract idea of, “that’s what good writing does to a person.” Perhaps that’s a critical cop-out, but it will have to do. My fifteen minutes are up.