16 October 2009

Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #1: Erskine Caldwell, Moreland, Georgia

Erskine Caldwell's birthplace and museum, now moved to the Town Square.

I've shifted a previous post I made about my impressions of three of Caldwell's books, so that it ties in with the images here. Many label his writing as Southern Gothic, and I can certainly find traces of his style of writing in Harry Crews and Larry Brown.

Tobacco Road (1932)

My introduction to Erskine Caldwell, who detested such epithets as 'white trash' used here. Yes, there are grotesque, deformed people, sex-crazed and insanely violent. But this is on a cartoon level, as though the protagonists are playing caricatures of themselves, while all around the wasted land of opportunity serves to mimic the deadness of their lives.
God's Little Acre (1933).

There's a similar obsession with casual (and voyeuristic) sex here to Tobacco Road, although like that earlier book, very strong for the time, is it of course tame today. But there's a much stonger emphasis on land waste and mind waste, of people obsessed with futility as well as trivia. And there's more humanity, things aren't play out cartoonishly.

Georgia Boy (1943).

After Tobacco Road and God's Little Acre, this came as some surprise: this is not a novel but a collection of quaint short stories based around one family, in which the father is shiftless, thieving and rather stupid as opposed to his down-to-earth wife. Here are stories of goats on roofs, schemes to earn riches by buying a paper-pulping machine, or just a few dollars by selling scrap iron. None works, of course. This is small-town America as distinct from rural America, and I don't think I can remember any violence, just simple stories designed, perhaps, to appeal to a younger reader. Certainly these are (on the surface, at least), much simpler than the novels.

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