Pulitzer Project: The Store, T.S. Stribling (1933)

The Store is the second book in T. S. Stribling’s Vaiden Trilogy. I originally thought I’d try to read the first book too, but I had enough trouble getting on my hands on a copy of this book, that I gave up hope trying to find two Stribling novels! I ultimately was able to borrow a copy of this book from the University of Alabama library, thanks to my dad’s academic credentials there. In full disclosure, I finished this book years ago, but have taken a little break from writing here (didja miss me?)

A Brief Summary: The Store follows Miltiades Vaiden as he reckons with a changing racial and economic landscape. Post Civil War, Vaiden finds himself trying to “find his way” as he loses his job as an overseer of a plantation. The novel is ambitious and covers many hallmarks of Southern life in the 1880s – property disputes, “passing“, the Klan, and an underlying current of racially charged condescension and power dynamics prevail.

Setting: Florence, Alabama

Time Period: 1880s

Fun Fact: T.S. Stribling was the first Tennesseean to win a Pulitzer Prize (although Alabama also likes to take credit for him).

My Thoughts: One thing that struck me about the book was how aware Vaiden was of the power dynamics between Black and white people. He knows that the Black woman that he repeatedly rapes and abuses does not love him, and yet, even though he knows she is powerless to deny him, he turns to her for affection and to confide in her. Some readers may find the book hard to swallow due to interactions like that, or the constant racial slurs and racist remarks throughout the book. And yet, others may defend this as an accurate depiction of the 1880s. I wonder if reading this book when it was published in the 1930s was a very different experience than reading it in now, in the 2020s. While Stribling’s name has faded from the headlines and is now a pretty obscure author, I found this quote (from Wikipedia) which addresses Stribling’s legacy:

“Though not great literary art, Stribling’s trilogy is, nevertheless, historically significant; for in The Forge, The Store, and Unfinished Cathedral, Stribling introduced a subject matter, themes, plot elements, and character types which parallel and at the same time anticipate those that William Faulkner, who owned copies of this trilogy, would treat in Absalom, Absalom! and in the Snopes trilogy.”

James J. Martine, ed. Dictionary of Literary Biography: Volume Nine

I haven’t read Absalom, Absalom!  yet, although it is on my shelf. I am curious to see the ways that I see Stribling’s work reflected in Faulkner’s.

***

I would recommend this book to people who are currently thinking about race — the ways in which progress has been made since the 1880s and the ways in which things are very much the same; to people who, like me, love to read books set in the South and, in particular, in Alabama; to people who don’t mind reading about flawed and infuriating characters.

Extra Curricular:

7 thoughts on “Pulitzer Project: The Store, T.S. Stribling (1933)

  1. Pingback: The Pulitzer Project | Like Bears to Honey

  2. I’ve never come across these but will add the trilogy to the list and try to get my hands on copies of the books, I do like challenging literature, especially now I am just reading books about ducks diving into a swimming pool to my daughter. Keep the recommendations coming.

    • What! A daughter! Did you always have a daughter? Congratulations!

      One of the fun but most frustrating parts of reading through books from the 1930s is seeing how some once-prominent authors have fallen into obscurity, making their books almost impossible to find! I wonder which popular writers today will be forgotten in 50-60 years.

      • Judging by how terrible most bestsellers seem to be today, not many will be remembered in fifty or sixty years time. ALthough now that blogs and such are a thing, then those books can always be talked about to a wider audience and maybe get new print runs if the interest is around. I do enjoy coming across those gems in bookshops that turn out to be amazing reads, so that still keeps the charm alive in this world of easy ordering, if online book buying is your thing.

        • And yes, a daughter, almost one year old now, so a mostly covid time of things for her, she still is surprised to see people but she is already running around and being generally a crazed lunatic.

        • But what about today’s prize-winning novels? You think they’ll fall into obscurity in 50-60 years too? (Although I suppose even some Oscar winning movies from 10 years ago are obscure now, if they’re not stream-able).

          I am a big fan of brick & mortar bookstores! Down with Amazon!

          • I had a read of the prize winning novels from the Costa and Booker prizes and saw books I thought were very mediocre and very forgettable at best kncking around. Of course the problem with many prizes as has been documented is that judges usually have affiliations with other authors or publishing houses of contestants making it less than transparent in terms of who and why they vote for a particular book. It’s very subjective but personally I tend to have less interest in award winners unless recommended by the bloggers I enjoy reading.

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