The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
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The Ballad of the Sad Cafe

4.03 of 5 stars 4.03  ·  rating details  ·  5,443 ratings  ·  335 reviews
In The Ballad of the Sad Café, a tale of unrequited love, Miss Amelia, a spirited, unconventional woman, runs a small-town store and, except for a marriage that lasted just ten days, has always lived alone. Then Cousin Lymon appears from nowhere, a little, strutting hunchback who steals Miss Amelia's heart. Together they transform the store into a lively, popular café. But...more
Paperback, Penguin Modern Classics, 160 pages
Published March 29th 2001 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published January 1st 1951)
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Best Southern Gothic Literature
26th out of 85 books — 141 voters
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Paquita Maria Sanchez
You know those authors; just when you think you've begun to catch your footing running up the landslide that is all the books and authors you want to read, someone trips you up by mentioning, I don't know, "Carson McCullers," and suddenly you're all shaky-clenched fists and "durmurt, foiled again!" Well, (not Johnny) Carson (not Daily) McCullers, I know a bit about you now, and I think I could love you.

*We have lost soul losers who keep on losing.
*Not everyone is completely hollowed out by cycl...more
I've noticed many folks who read and review literature on this site will namedrop other authors in a sort of Iron Chef flowery manner of description, knowing that other literary folk will instantly understand what is meant when saying 'this prose invokes a similar sense of spring as Lord Bigbeard With Tiny Spectacles, and a harmonious interplay of flavors identical to Oppressed In Her Time Strong Woman Author' (I swear every episode of Iron Chef used the spring and harmony phrases, it was like "...more
Feb 07, 2013 Mariel rated it 4 of 5 stars Recommends it for: couraged to flourish and muses often
Recommended to Mariel by: Now slow-mo Quasimoto teeter on
She felt that the marrows of her bones were hollow and there was no blood left in her. Her heart that had been springing against her chest all afternoon felt suddenly dead. She saw it gray and limp and shriveled at the edges like an oyster.
His face seemed to throb out in space before her, come closer with the lurching motion in the veins of his temples. In retreat, she looked down at the piano. Her lips shook like jelly and a surge of noiseless tears made the white keys blur in a watery line. 'I
I've just read this again after more than half a lifetime. The town hasn't changed. The intense feelings and moods are as I remember; the grotesqueries, the eroticism which is inverted into a thrilling sense of dread are the same. The book is the stuff of dreams. It's wetly lyrical, swamp stinking and dry, horrible and very, very funny. Biting in its demolition of cherished character types, a distorting mirror of the absurd upon the southern mythologies. The cafe, of course, is sad because it's...more
There is a dark, syrupy sway to Carson's work that I've always been a sucker for. The Ballad of the Sad Café is faultless.
I devoured it.

She employs her signature style study on heartbreak, cruelty & loneliness, as seen with The Heart is a Lonely Hunter.

Set in a town that is 'lonesome, sad, and like a place that is far off and estranged from all other places in the world', with a striking central character Miss Amelia, whose violent & abrupt marriage inspires her to adopt years of solit...more
Note: Spoilers Ahead

The novella "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe" is a Southern Gothic work with eccentric, lonely characters in a rundown Georgia town. Miss Amelia Evans is a six foot two inch rugged woman. She's the owner of a general store, and does a bit of healing with herbs on the side to help the townspeople. They gossip about her ten day marriage to Marvin Macy which ended after she refused his sexual advances. Marvin left town for a life of crime, and landed in the penitentiary.

A hunchback d...more
This is an excellent collection, with the titled novella being my favorite and having some truly wonderful prose throughout. It struck me as a southern tall tale crossed with that terrible "love gone wrong" plus Southern Gothic. So many parts equal a glorious whole for the reader if not for Miss Amelia.The descriptions of the café and the changes wrought on the town and its inhabitants are exciting to read, so full of life.

But the pride that the café brought to this town had an
effect on almost
This title popped up as one of my group reads but having read none McCullers' work I wasn't sure if I should start with a collection of shorts or hold out for The Heart is a Lonely Hunter(which has been on my tbr for quite some time). I figured if nothing else, the group would help me compare this work to her other full length titles so I jumped in. Some really wonderful stories!

The title story, "Ballad" was the longest(short, novella or novelette, I'd love to hear someone explain the difference...more

Although I live today in the rural Southwestern US, I was born and bred in the american South. I left in 1975 at the age of 25. There was/is much to become alienated with about the South; the racism, the right-wing idealogies, the chauvanism, the narrow-minded parochialism. But there is much to love also: The vast and complex flora--springtime lasts five months; and each week there seem to be at least four different varieties of flowers in bloom! The lay of the...more
McCullers' voice in this haunting tale (like that of Ngugi wa Thiong'o in A Grain of Wheat) often takes on the folk ballad posture of an anonymous (or perhaps dispersed) community member. She labours over the authenticity of this tone, fleshing it with a complete vocabulary of cultural experience available in the town, emphasising its remote status and insularity without superiority, and often repudiating stereotype. Despite this refusal to retreat to the default god-author position, she is able...more
Lush and tender. After reading the crappy sentences of "The Pillars of the Earth," sinking into McCullers's sentences was like easing into a hot bath: "In addition to the store she operated a still three miles back in the swamp, and ran out the best liquor in the country." Ahh. So I didn't mind so much the melodrama or the adolescent rhapsody in sentences like "Otherwise the town is lonesome, sad, and like a place that is far off and estranged from all other places in the world." Or the awful pa...more
“The Ballad of the Sad Café” has an intensity which I can only liken to a Tennessee Williams play. Fantastic. McCullers mixes odd, complex characters together (like a wandering hunchback, the wealthiest woman of a small town, and the bad apple who is her ex-husband) and manages to make their stories believable. As satisfying as a large novel.

Interesting to note in “Wunderkind” another young woman with an almost painful yearning to play and be one with classical music, similar to Mick Kelly in Th...more
Poignant short story of repressed feelings, mystery and missed opportunity in a small impoverished southern community, concerning Miss Amelia, cousin Lymon the hunchback, and Marvin Macy.

It also contains several even shorter stories in the book, several with an overtly musical theme - like the title of this volume, much of her other work and indeed her life. In particular, Wunderkind probably echoes her thwarted plans to study at the Juliard (she lost the fees on the subway, so took a creative...more
I bought this book at a used bookstore after seeing the following quote on someone's facebook page:

"The most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the field."

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe is certainly the most memorable story in the collection. Reading this book made me contemplate what happened to all the characters in American fiction? Why is every protagonist now written to be an Every Man? Where are the cross-eyed whiskey d...more
A boy once asked me if I would rather be the lover or the beloved. I wanted this boy to be my boyfriend so I tried to trick him. I told him that most people preferred to be the beloved. I thought that if I could make him my boyfriend, I could buy some time to show him all the reasons to love me. It didn't work, but it was probably for the best. The boy was funny, but he was also uptight and he liked AC/DC a little too much.

Carson McCullers' collection reminded me of this conversation about the l...more
Judy Vasseur
Just finished the first short story: The Ballad of the Sad Cafe. WOW. WOW. WOW. On one page I was laughing out loud and the next page I felt like my heart was ripped from my chest.

McCullers slashes and burns gender and sexual stereotypes, stomps all over them with big swamp boots.

A love triangle exists between an over 6 foot tall woman, a dwarf hunchback half her size and the handsomest man in the county who has been emotionally hurt by an abusive childhood. Unrequited love is toxic and pretty...more
Spring makes me nostalgic for the fiction of the American South, so when we decided to head down to my old stomping grounds for a week of vacation, I headed out to pick up a couple of volumes of short stories by Southern writers. This was the first one I read and the first time I'd ever read anything by Carson McCullers.

This is a collection of one novella, "The Ballad of the Sad Cafe," and 6 short stories. All were good-reads, but I did enjoy "Ballad" the most. A good story. Very Southern. Remi...more
Isaac (Tower of Stories)

The Ballad of the Sad Café and Other Stories is a small collection of short stories by Carson McCullers which was originally published in 1958. The title story of this collection, a novella that takes up the first half of the book, is a sad and strange story by an author who had a sad and strange life.

"The Ballad of the Sad Café" was first published seperately in 1951 and is a classic of the Southern Gothic style. It tells the story of the rise and fall of a small town café owned by a powerful w...more
This is a tale of a cafe that became a hot spot of socializing and good times.
The cafe's rise and fall, how it's owner found a wandering hunchback and warmed to him strangely took him in and loved him for all his peculiarity.
One antagonist a criminal, a jailed man has a history with this area and people and is soon to return and wreck havoc.
This was a memorable story with characters that spring to life in the tale, outrageous and you cant help feeling sad for one character and the cafés demise.
The Ballad of the Sad Cafe is an odd little story, which partly explains why I like it. It's sad, and sharp, and full of imagery. It has a haunting effect that leaves you knowing that you may not ever understand what it means. But, it leaves you wondering. For me, that's enough to recognize it as beautifully literary.

What was clear to me in this story is the complexity of love and companionship, and just how inexplicable it can be. Carson McCullers captured the subtleties of town mentality and...more
Amelia is the main character in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe and she is a rather eccentric person. She turns a mansion into a cafe, and the people who frequent it use it as a gossip center as well as "socializing." The cafe was actually special to the people; however, due to a "situation" another character named Lymon causes such a tragedy for Amelia and the cafe that Amelia basically becomes a different person and her entire way of living is changed.

A lot was centered around food and love. The to...more
Classic Southern Gothic, my favorite genre, at it's best! Carson McCullers was a master of her craft. The stories of love and loss and all the complications therein are perfectly laid out by a wonderful writer. The symbolism in her writing is amazing and I love the way that each character represents a different aspect of love.

The characters in The Ballad of the Sad Cafe are a window into Carson herself and her life. I particularly like the way that Carson McCullers weaves her personal life into...more
Me da la sensación que de un tiempo a esta parte empiezo todas mis reseñas contando que antes había empezado un libro de cierto autor pero que no lo había terminado y tengo la sensación que esto no dice mucho a mi favor como lectora. Pero es así: no termino ni mucho menos todos los libros que empiezo. A veces porque no me dicen nada o simplemente no los soporto. Pero no siempre. A veces simplemente porque me canso de ellos. Confieso que uno de mis muchos defectos es la impaciencia, algo que como...more
Diane Barnes
"Leo had run a night cafe for 14 years, and he held himself to be a critic of craziness." That line is from the last story in the book, "A Tree, A Rock, A Cloud". I wish I knew how an author can come up with a sentence that says so much in 19 words. That's my favorite sentence but by no means the only perfect one in this collection. And as for the title story, it's just brilliant and awesome. Miss Amelia will stay a part of my psyche for a long time.
I was going to skip this review because I am embarrassed about where the suggestion to read it came from, but I just can't...

I loved this collection of stories. McCullers writes beautifully and the characters are very accessible. Each story could be a movie, you see every detail. But more than that they are about life, and particularly hit on the realities of life that have been pressing down on me as of late. From the realization that the person who you love does not in fact love you back, to t...more
Nov 19, 2009 Adam rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Adam by: liz
This is a collection with two distinct halves. "The Ballad of the Sad Café" takes up roughly the first half, and is a Southern Gothic meditation on love, betrayal, and solitude, told through a strange triangle; a mannish woman named Miss Amelia, a grotesque dwarf called Cousin Lymon, and a handsome criminal named Marvin. The second half is a collection of stories that are less strange and baroque, and are finely observed meditations on humanity. "Madame Zilensky and the King of Finland," "The So...more
I really enjoyed these stories. They are written in such a simplistic style that I wasn't sure at first whether I'd find them too facile. But ultimately, the stark style served the stories well. These are lonely stories - often taking a small snapshot of an afternoon and projecting from that stalled moment a whole life's worth of isolation. Quite without the stodgy religious damage that often plagues the Southern Gothic, these stories struck me as rather existential, in their way. I'll definitel...more

Club Read: On the Southern Literary Trail


Most OTSLT readers probably already know that 'Sad Cafe' was turned into drama by playwright Edward Albee in the sixties and then later morphed again into a Merchant-Ivory film production (1991). It's not hard to see the appeal this story has for the dramatist. It's the theatrical, visual elements of the narrative that, along with the fabulist voice of the narrator, make it so unique. Most of the major developments proceed from highly charged m...more
Christopher Sutch
"Ballad" is a well-written and intriguing novella about a curious relationship between two unusual people. Like McCullers's previous novella "Reflections in a Golden Eye" the author explores some eccentric psychological territory, but unlike that previous work this story is more focused; in particular McCullers examines why people are attracted emotionally to certain other people and is further interested in power imbalances within those relationships. The plot and prose are not nearly as dry as...more
When I finished The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, the anchor novella in this collection of stories, I was ready to proclaim Ms. McCullers superior to Flannery and Eudora and even Bill Faulkner himself. And this was without ever cracking open The Heart is a Lonlely Hunter, her first novel,a book that seems to make everyone who's read it gush about how someone so young (she was 23 when it was published) could write so movingly and beautifully about love and loss. My ardor cooled a little after reading t...more
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  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider
  • The Grass Harp, Including A Tree of Night and Other Stories
  • The Lonely Hunter: A Biography of Carson McCullers
  • The Stories of Breece D'J Pancake
  • A Curtain of Green and Other Stories
  • Let the Dead Bury Their Dead
  • The Violent Bear it Away
  • A Childhood: The Biography of a Place
  • Will You Please Be Quiet, Please?
  • After Rain
  • The Collected Stories
  • Collected Stories
  • Poachers
  • The Night in Question
  • Asylum Piece
  • The Complete Stories
  • God's Little Acre
Carson McCullers (February 19, 1917 – September 29, 1967) was an American writer. She wrote fiction, often described as Southern Gothic, that explores the spiritual isolation of misfits and outcasts of the South.

From 1935 to 1937 she divided her time, as her studies and health dictated, between Columbus and New York and in September 1937 she married an ex-soldier and aspiring writer, Reeves McCul...more
More about Carson McCullers...
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter The Member of the Wedding Reflections in a Golden Eye Collected Stories Clock without Hands

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“First of all, love is a joint experience between two persons — but the fact that it is a joint experience does not mean that it is a similar experience to the two people involved. There are the lover and the beloved, but these two come from different countries. Often the beloved is only a stimulus for all the stored-up love which had lain quiet within the lover for a long time hitherto. And somehow every lover knows this. He feels in his soul that his love is a solitary thing. He comes to know a new, strange loneliness and it is this knowledge which makes him suffer. So there is only one thing for the lover to do. He must house his love within himself as best he can; he must create for himself a whole new inward world — a world intense and strange, complete in himself. Let it be added here that this lover about whom we speak need not necessarily be a young man saving for a wedding ring — this lover can be man, woman, child, or indeed any human creature on this earth.

Now, the beloved can also be of any description. The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. A man may be a doddering great-grandfather and still love only a strange girl he saw in the streets of Cheehaw one afternoon two decades past. The preacher may love a fallen woman. The beloved may be treacherous, greasy-headed, and given to evil habits. Yes, and the lover may see this as clearly as anyone else — but that does not affect the evolution of his love one whit. A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself.

It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many. The beloved fears and hates the lover, and with the best of reasons. For the lover is forever trying to strip bare his beloved. The lover craves any possible relation with the beloved, even if this experience can cause him only pain.”
“And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being loved is intolerable to many.” 93 likes
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