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Carson McCullers: The Ballad of the Sad Café

Another strange love triangle in this long short story, set in the South. Miss Amelia is a tough woman in a small Southern town, a village really, where she has a store. She used to be married but her husband went to prison and no-one dares ask her about the marriage anyway. As far as anyone knows she has no relatives, till one day an ugly dwarf appears and claims to be her cousin Lyman. People think that he will soon get short shrift but he is welcomed by Miss Amelia and she starts to dote on him. The store is gradually converted into a café which becomes the social centre of the village and which everyone looks forward to going to on Saturday night. Amelia does all the work and Lyman the talking and drinking but she seems to be happy. But then Marvin Macy, her ex-husband, returns from prison and starts to cause trouble. Not in the usual way – Amelia can handle that – but by ingratiating himself with Lyman and gradually wooing Lyman away from Amelia till, in the end, Amelia and Marvin have a fight. Amelia is clearly winning when Lyman intervenes to rescue Marvin. The two leave town, leaving a sad Amelia and a sad café.

Publishing history

First published 1951 by Houghton Mifflin