I first read Penn Warren’s politics-of-America novel 15 years ago. Many of its images have stuck in my mind since then. Penn Warren has sight-heavy scenes of high drama and deep introspection. It’s a book of America, a story of politics, and characters of high (and low) character. No much less or more than America has ever seen; but maybe more poignant today than every.
Where have all the books like this gone? Too few exist. Where have all the characters gone? They’ve come alive.
The flavor of “All the King’s Men” is politics of all sorts, in all guises. Penn Warren never lets up. This is a abject lesson for every writer, young & old, new or seasoned: whatever your story is about, every page and every line of dialogue must have its blood on its words. Here’s a sample:
” ‘Friends, red-necks, suckers, and fellow hicks,’ he would say, leaning forward, leaning at them, looking at them. And he would pause, letting the words sink in. And in the quiet the crowd would be restless and resentful under these words, the words they knew people called them but the words nobody ever got up and called them to their face. ‘Yeah,’ he would say, ‘yeah,’ and twist his mouth on the word, ‘that’s what you are, and you needn’t get mad at me for telling you. Well, get mad, but I’m telling you. That’s what you are. And me—I’m one, too. Oh, I’m a red-neck, for the sun has beat down on me. Oh, I’m a sucker, for I fell for that sweet-talking fellow in the fine automobile. Oh, I took the sugar tit and hushed my crying. Oh, I’m a hick and I am the hick they were going to try to use and split the hick vote. But I’m standing here on my own hind legs, for even a dog can learn to do that, give him time. I learned. It took me a time but I learned, and here I am on my own hind legs.’ And he would lean at them. And demand, ‘Are you, are you on your hind legs? Have you learned that much yet? You think you can learn that much?’ ”
– Robert Penn Warren, “All the King’s Men”
The Village Wit (2010) is a humorous and sometimes dark odyssey through village life, love’s fall, sexual politics, and that place where memory and modern love intersect. Read an excerpt here. This book is also available as an ebook.