was adam intent on killing jackie too?

Idealism is always under threat of latent hypocrisy, sometimes a hypocrisy more heinous than the crime idealism protects us from.

Jack Burden participated in Adam Stanton’s betrayal of his ideals. He convinced him to work with Willie Stark and unearthed the indiscretions, though noble, of his father. He also unwittingly handed his sister, Anne, over to Willie, thus corrupting everything Adam cared about. He appears to aim the gun at Jackie, but Sugarboy killed him before he could fire. By Adam’s standards, just like the woman from the north who brutalized her slaves in the south, the ‘friend of his youth’, deserved to die along with Willie Stark. Blot out the enemy, whip them, murder them, sell them down river. Anything but abide a knowing look in their eyes.

I believe he wanted it to be a double homicide.

all the king’s men: the beef steak & the slaughterhouse

two words: one coin

You know this story. It plays out regularly, every four or six years or so. Politics.

Robert Penn Warren’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All The King’s Men re-enacts the ancient and brutal clash of ethics inherent in all power struggles and with all the usual suspects – this time in the impoverished south in 1930’s USA.

Cue the populist, the oligarchs and a bitter bloody end.

The central character, Willie Stark, a self-proclaimed hick who wants to be president, and the wealthy land-owners (former slave-owners) and oil barons with tenuous grip on the status quo, each believe themselves entitled to govern the resource-rich state of Louisiana. The ‘oligarchs’, inflated with lofty idealism and old-power, and upstart Willie, endowed with the ‘will and need’ of his fellow “rednecks, suckers and hicks,” p.142 engage in a feud ripe with hypocrisy and doom: Idealism is propped up on selective amnesia and complacency, and Willie relies heavily on coercion and intimidation. But both sides bear an absolute moral right. Both wear blinders,

…like someone who just love beef steak but just can’t bear to go down to a slaughterhouse because there are some bad rough men down there who aren’t animal lovers p.385

which is psychic observation, as at this very moment in our own slaughterhouse ‘abattoir’ wars, idealism is still brother to dirty deed. They are inextricable, and the clash as innate as sibling rivalry. Idealism and action are equal parts of the same thing, each vital to the others existence. As are outrage and obstinate ignorance.

This is observed  by All The King’s Men narrator Jack Burden, the apathetic student of History who straddles both sides – son to a wealthy land owner but employee to Willie Stark. He plays the role of inert nexus. Plagued by a paralysis of fear and lack of conviction, he inadvertently affects the destiny of each character in the novel.

For all the world is one piece… it doesn’t matter whether you meant to brush the web of things. p.283

Jackie Burden learns in the end what he would have learned finishing a thesis he abandoned: that there are always ‘historical costs’ p.593 ricocheting through time and space beyond our action or inaction.

Consequence is a bitch and never pretty.

I really enjoyed reading All The King’s Men, but I wish it was shorter than its near 700 pages, as it easily could’ve been if Warren chopped out all the repetition, the narrator’s intrusive musings and the hysterics from the women. But it was a really great read, with its hazy and bourbon-soaked southern drawl, charming parochial wit and Sugar-Boy’s “b-b-b-bastards.”

Adding to the relish of this novel is that Willie Stark is based on real-life populist Huey Long, nicknamed ‘The Kingfish’, which is more pertinent to the title than the Humpty-Dumpty nursery rhyme.

Willie Stark’s assassin is also based on real life Dr. Carl Weiss. Fun fact.

There are two film adaptations. The first in 1949 won 3 Academy Awards,

and the 2006 film isn’t as terrible as everyone says.

It’s a fairly faithful adaptation, a bit top-heavy in the casting and mangled at the end, but it is beautifully beautifully shot and retains Warren’s best and most memorable lines verbatim.

Bonus Fun Fact: What do Barack Obama and Willie Stark have in common? Both are intent on beating the odds, and both can snatch a fly from mid-air, like Keisuke Miyagi.

hypocrites-bob marley
everyone choose sides-the wrens


Though still a work in progress, here are the novels that I’ll be reading in 2011.

Struck through titles have been completed.
Bold titles are presently being read.
* indicates reread.

  1. 1984-1948-George Orwell
  2. The Adventures of Augie March-1953-Saul Bellow
  3. All The King’s Men-1946-Robert Penn Warren
  4. American Pastoral-1997-Philip Roth
  5. An American Tragedy-1925-Theodore Dreiser
  6. Animal Farm-1946-George Orwell*
  7. Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret-1970-Judy Blume
  8. At Swim-Two-Birds-1938-Flann O’Brien
  9. Atonement-2002-Ian McEwan
  10. Beloved-1987-Toni Morrison*
  11. The Big Sleep-1939-Raymond Chandler
  12. The Blind Assassin-2000-Margaret Atwood
  13. Blood Meridian-1986-Cormac McCarthy
  14. Catch-22-1961-Joseph Heller
  15. The Catcher in the Rye-1951-J.D. Salinger*
  16. A Clockwork Orange-1963-Anthony Burgess
  17. The Corrections-2001-Jonathan Franzen
  18. The Death of the Heart-1958-Elizabeth Bowen
  19. The French Lieutenant’s Woman-1969-John Fowles
  20. Go Tell it on the Mountain-1953-James Baldwin
  21. The Grapes of Wrath-1939-John Steinbeck
  22. The Great Gatsby-1925-F. Scott Fitzgerald
  23. A Handful of Dust-1934-Evelyn Waugh
  24. The Heart is A Lonely Hunter-1940-Carson McCullers
  25. The Heart of the Matter-1948-Graham Greene
  26. Herzog-1964-Saul Bellow
  27. Housekeeping-1981-Marilynne Robinson
  28. I, Claudius-1934-Robert Graves
  29. The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe-1950-C. S. Lewis
  30. Lolita-1955-Vladimir Nabokov*
  31. Lord of the Flies-1955-William Golding
  32. Lucky Jim-1954-Kingsley Amis
  33. The Man Who Loved Children-1940-Christina Stead
  34. Midnight’s Children-1981-Salman Rushdie
  35. Mrs. Dalloway-1925-Virginia Woolf
  36. Naked Lunch-1959-William Burroughs
  37. Never Let Me Go-2005-Kazuo Ishiguro
  38. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-1962-Ken Kesey
  39. The Painted Bird-1965-Jerzy Kosinski
  40. A Passage to India-1924-E. M. Forster
  41. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie-1961-Muriel Sparks
  42. Snow Crash-1992-Neal Stephenson
  43. The Sound and the Fury-1929-William Faulkner
  44. The Sun Also Rises-1926-Ernest Hemingway
  45. Super Sad True Love Story-2010-Gary Shteyngart
  46. Things Fall Apart-1959-Chinua Achebe*
  47. To the Lighthouse-1927-Virginia Woolf
  48. Ubik-1969-Phillip Dick
  49. Ulysses-1922-James Joyce
  50. Under The Net-1954-Iris Murdoch
  51. Under The Volcano-1947-Malcolm Lowry
  52. Watchmen-1986-Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons*
  53. White Teeth-2000-Zadie Smith*
  54. Wide Sargasso Sea-1966-Jean Rhys*