Friday, March 4, 2011

All the King's Men (Robert Penn Warren)

By Melanie Yarbrough


This is the story of the rise and fall of Willie Stark, who strikes a resemblance to the real-life Huey "Kingfish" Long of Louisiana. Published in 1946, perhaps the story of a politician who starts out with the best intentions and ends in corruption seems a bit dated. Put Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on pause for a moment, and watch it happen in Robert Penn Warren's beautiful and harsh look into the difficulties of making everyone happy, including yourself.

Willie Stark is a familiar guy, especially if you're from the South like I am. He understands what his constituents want because he is one of them. It may sound like a page right out of W or Palin's campaign books, but the story of Willie Stark is rich with predicament and the kinds of justifications that pile on top of one another until the whole house is different from the blueprints.

Side note: While I've never seen any of the movies, it is my understanding that Sean Penn plays Willie in one of them. Please don't hold that against the book.

All the King's Men
By Robert Penn Warren

Story: 5.5 - While not the most original of stories, Warren's beautiful descriptions and strong, sympathetic characters take over the story and make it their own.

Style: 7.3 - Warren manages dialect without cheap apostrophes or misspelled words. The Southern drawl is present in the dialogue, and the heat of the setting is present in the descriptions. He does not rush through the story, instead allowing you to savor each bit.

General: 8.5 - The book didn't win the Pulitzer for nothing. This story has been told, will be told, and will occur in real life again and again. Whether or not it will be told in such a beautiful, patient, or sufficient way remains to be seen.

Overall: 7.1

Note on versions of the book: There are some versions that use a different name than "Willie Stark." I'm not sure the origin of this change, but I can tell you that I have read parts of the version with the different name and it doesn't read as well as the Willie Stark version. The cover pictured above is the book I read.

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