The Florence King Reader

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Gordonsville, Virginia, U.S.A. 1996 Paperback New 0312143370. FLAWLESS COPY, AVOID WEEKS OF DELAY ELSEWHERE. --clean and crisp, tight and bright pages, with no writing or ... markings to the text. Read more Show Less

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A volume that will stay in bookstores as long as bile still rankles in the human heart: the collected writings of our smartest, sharpest, and most feared writer--"Miss King" to you!

The book every Florence King fan has been waiting for, The Florence King Reader includes the complete novel When Sisterhood Was in Flower, excerpts from each of her books, including two currently out of print, selected columns and book reviews, and a hilarious excerpt from King's long-buried pseudonymously trash-historical The Barbarian Princess.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Intolerant, insensitive— and very, very, funny."—The New York Times Book Review

"If Mencken were alive, he would be her."—George Will

"This book is funny: howling, tears streaming, gasping for breath, rolling on the bed and screeching loud enough to scare the dogs FUNNY!...Buy two copies, because someone is sure to snitch one."—Fort Worth Star-Telegram

"This anthology is such a good idea— and such a success...The Florence King Reader is the best kind of anthology; it contains work from every period on diverse subjects, and it leaves the reader wanting more...To appreciate Florence King, you have to read her. No review can do her justice, for she is a true American original in an era in which that phrase should have been honorably retired years ago....Miss King is invariably entertaining. This anthology is the proof of her literary worth."—Jay Stafford, Richmond Times-Dispatch

"One of America's wittiest columnists...A delight and a treasure."—Maggie Gallagher, The Washington Times

"Simply wonderful...Like H.L. Mencken, whom she resembles in independence and vigorous expression of thought, King cannot write a dull paragraph."—Roger Miller, Milwaukee Journal

"Florence King is an outstanding writer. Her fiction shows perfect pitch for humor....Her essays are well-constructed, razor-sharp attacks on liberalism, feminism, and political correctness."—Ross C. Reeves, The Virginian-Pilot

The Washington Post
One of the few contemporary American essayists of sufficient pungency and wit to be almost always worth reading.
Roger Sutton
In addition to excerpts from nine of her previous books (one of which, the 1982 novel When Sisterhood Was in Flower, is reprinted substantially complete), [this volume] includes 35 uncollected essays, . . . on subjects ranging from Lizzie Borden to Sylvia Plath.
The New York Times Book Review
Roger Miller
Simply wonderful. . . . Like H.L. Mencken, whom she resembles in independence and vigorous expression of thought, King cannot write a dull paragraph.
Milwaukee Journal
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Spleen-filled satire from Southern conservative and misanthrope King. (July)
Roger Miller
Simply wonderful. . . . Like H.L. Mencken, whom she resembles in independence and vigorous expression of thought, King cannot write a dull paragraph. -- Milwaukee Journal
Roger Sutton
In addition to excerpts from nine of her previous books (one of which, the 1982 novel When Sisterhood Was in Flower, is reprinted substantially complete), [this volume] includes 35 uncollected essays, . . . on subjects ranging from Lizzie Borden to Sylvia Plath. -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312143374
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/1996
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 5.56 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 1.16 (d)

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The Florence King Reader

SOUTHERN LADIES AND GENTLEMEN1975I used a "good/bad" scale to decide which chapters to include here. The first, "Big Daddy," was a favorite of nearly all reviewers so I felt it should go in. The second, "The Gay Confederation," upset Newsweek reviewer Margo Jefferson (not hard to do), who found it to be a "poorly and tastelessly aimed" exercise in homophobia. You be the judge.BIG DADDYThe South's favorite accolade, "If you're half the man your daddy is you'll be all right," is the locus classicus of the dynastic novel that tempts so many Southern male writers. The halving process fills the author with dark fascination. He must show a long line of men, each of whom was half as good as the daddy before him, until he gets to the autobiographical character who, by definition, has undergone the most complete mathematical reduction of all.The stern, drawling Agamemnon known as Big Daddy dominates this kind of novel, as we see in the apocryphal bestseller, Carmichael's Lament. 

Buck Carmichael was coming home from World War II. Home to Carmichael Junction, the town his ancestors founded.His throat tightened but he forced back his tears, clenching his jaw until a muscle leaped in his lean tan cheek. As the train slowed, he peered out the window and picked out familiar landmarks: Carmichael's Feed & Grain, Carmichael's Hardware, and in the distance, on the corner of Main Street, the Carmichael Building.The five-story structure had been built by his father, Big Buck Carmichael, and dedicated to the memory of his grandfather, Old Buck Carmichael. The building housed the family law firm. Big Buck had sent him a snapshot of the office door while he was fighting in the Pacific. Many times, as he crouched in foxholes, Buck had taken it out and looked at it, drawing courage from it while he was fighting for his country. Other soldiers had pictures of their wives and sweethearts, but Buck had a picture of his daddy's door.Now, he took it from his pocket and looked at it once again. What adoor! Even though his grandfather had been dead for twenty-five years, the door still bore his name in honor of his memory. How like his father, Buck thought, to keep Granddaddy's name there. Big Buck had worshiped Granddaddy.CARMICHAEL & CARMICHAELAttorneys at Law Buckley Carmichael, Sr. Buckley Carmichael, Jr. Buckley Carmichael IIIOn the back of the snapshot Big Buck had written: "I added your name so you can come to work as soon as you get back from the war."Buck frowned. He was not sure if he wanted to be a lawyer. He had always thought he would like to be ... a writer. The muscle in his lean tan cheek leaped again as he clenched his jaw. In college he had published a few short stories under a pen name, but he had burned them before he went to war in case he got killed and his father should find them. He had never told his father about his literary ambitions—he didn't dare. Big Buck always said writing was women's work, fit only for the likes of Ellen Glasgow, Margaret Mitchell, Lillian Smith, Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, Carson McCullers, and Lillian Hellman.No, he could not be a writer, but did he want to be a lawyer? He was ashamed of his indecision. A man should know what he wants to do, should have a master plan for his life. His mother had never been able to make up her mind—he wondered if he took after her? It was a frightening thought, and he prepared to put it out of his mind in the usual way. God, but his jaw muscle hurt! The damn thing had been leaping in his lean tan cheek for years.He told himself there was nothing of his mother in him. He was a Carmichael through and through, the spit of Big Buck, who was the spit of Old Buck, who was the spit of the Confederate general, "Swamp" Buck, whose portrait hung in the courthouse.The train pulled into the station. Buck grabbed his duffel bag and stepped out into the hot sunlight, searching the faces on the platform.Suddenly, Big Buck Carmichael stepped out of the crowd and stood before him. Buck swallowed hard. Daddy! Daddy! his heart cried. Helonged to rush forward and throw his arms around his father and kiss him, but of course he could not. Carmichael men didn't do such things. Instead, he forced himself to walk forward calmly and greet the man he adored in a manly fashion.Big Buck held out his huge square hand. As Buck took it, it closed around his own like a vise."Welcome home, boy," said Big Buck."Thank you, sir. It's good to be back." Daddy! Daddy! Do you really love me the way I love you? You never said you did. I guess you do, but if only you would say it ... . Daddy, please stop squeezing my hand. My jaw hurts bad enough without having a broken hand, too."I'm sorry your mother can't be here to greet you," Big Buck rumbled in his bass drawl, "but she went to pieces and we had to put her away." He shrugged. "Nerves. You know how women are."Buck smiled, joy and inexpressible relief coursing through him as it always did whenever his father included him in the fraternity of men."Where is she, sir?"His father's eyes hardened; Buck trembled."At Carmichael Memorial Hospital, where else? She's in the new wing I just built."They got into the car and headed for home. As they approached the road to the estate, Buck gazed up at the tall smokestacks of the Carmichael Mills. His heart skipped a beat at the sight of these symbols of his father's power. It made him feel proud to be a man whenever he looked at the hard, towering cylinders reaching up to the sky.Soon they came to the stables, and there, frisking in the grass, was Prince Carmichael, the stallion that sired all their colts. A few moments later, Buck saw something graceful and white at the crest of the hill. Leaning forward, he emitted a hoarse cry of joy."Yes," said his father, with quiet pride. "Carmichael Hall."They went immediately to Big Buck's study, a room full of leather sofas and guns. Big Buck went to the sideboard and poured generous glasses of bonded bourbon for them, then sat down in his armchair with a firm, leathery squish."You bein' away four years gave me plenny time to plan your life, boy."Buck swallowed. For one awful moment he almost said "I want to be a writer." The words were on the tip of his tongue, but then helooked up at the life-sized oil portrait of Old Buck that hung over the mantel. As he gazed at the stern old man, he remembered how, as a boy, he had crept into this room and walked up and down in front of the portrait, terrified yet fascinated by the way his grandfather's fierce eyes seemed to follow him.He could not be a writer, he could not disgrace the Carmichael name! Never again must he think of it.He looked at his father. "That's mighty good of you, sir. What do you want me to do?" "Come to work tomorrow. Your desk is waitin' for you, and I hired you a secretary. Old Miz Anderson. You 'member her, you had her sister for sixth grade. She's one of the few sensible women I ever met, the kind of woman who belongs in an office.""Thank you, sir." "And when you have your first son, we'll add Buckley Carmichael IV to the door the day he's born. That'll be my christenin' present to my grandson.""I don't know what to say, sir. You're more than generous."Big Buck smiled the grim manly smile that always covered his deepest emotions."You're my son, I'd do anything for you, boy. Now," he said briskly, clearing his throat. "Speakin' of Buckley the Fourth. We've got to have a mother for the boy, so I want you to marry Puddyface Castlemaine as soon as possible."Buck went numb with horror. Puddyface Castlemaine! Oh, no! Not that simpering belle, that spoiled brat, that goddamned apple of Kincaid Castlemaine's eye! He had known Puddyface all his life and hated her every minute of it. When they were children she had stuck to him like a burr, tagging along on his fishing trips, until his friends called him a sissy and teased him brutally for having a girl around all the time.Worst of all, she had interrupted his precious hours with his father. On Sunday afternoons when he was growing up, Big Buck used to take him into the den for man-talk; guns and politics and crops, and stories about the cavalry charges led by Carmichaels in the War.It was the only time he could be alone with Big Buck, and Puddyface knew it. It was never long before the door burst open and in she came, switching herself and smiling pertly while his mother watchedfrom her hiding place behind the stairwell. His mother had arranged those interruptions, had connived with Puddyface to drive him and his father apart.Later on, he had been forced to date her, and serve as one of her marshals at the deb ball. What a hellacious night that was! The only thing that saved him was her total absorption in her father, Kincaid Castlemaine. She had danced practically every dance with her daddy, freeing Buck to get drunk in the parking lot with the other boys whose dates were dancing with their daddies.As a child, her father had called her "Prettyface," but when she repeated it after him in her baby voice, it came out "Puddyface." From then on, everyone called her Puddyface, until people had a hard time remembering what her real name was. She had even been announced at the deb ball as Miss Puddyface Kincaid Castlemaine.And now, she was going to be the mother of his son! He wanted to die.His father's sharp voice interrupted his thoughts."Well? Say somethin'. You're gettin' the prettiest girl in the state and the Castlemaine money besides. Aren't you happy?"Buck jumped. "Well, sir ... I just can't believe it, that's all."Big Buck rose and poured them more bourbon, then resumed his leathery seat."I want this marriage, boy, I want it bad. A union between the Carmichaels and the Castlemaines will mean that my grandson will own the whole state!"He leaned forward and spoke urgently."You see, boy, my daddy and Kincaid's daddy were rivals. I can win that old feud for my daddy if I can arrange for his great-grandson to inherit all the Castlemaine holdings." His face sobered. "I promised Old Buck on his deathbed that a Carmichael would win out over the Castlemaines. It's my duty as his son to do it, and it's your duty as my son to help me. And it will be your son's duty to take over the Castlemaine power and keep it intact for his son."A deep thrill coursed through Buck. He was part of a master plan, a link in the father-son chain. It meant that his father trusted him. That was love, wasn't it?"I—I don't know what to say, sir. Except, thank you."Big Buck smiled his grim manly smile. "The weddin' is set for theend of the month. It would've been sooner, but Puddyface got the pip. You know how women are."Big Buck rose and refilled their glasses, then turned and faced the portrait of Old Buck."We'll drink to him now," he commanded softly, raising his glass.Buck stood and the two of them intoned the old familiar toast."He was a man!" 

How time flies, Buck thought, as he poured himself a bourbon. His son, Little Buck, was now three years old. It didn't seem possible that he and Puddyface had been married for three years and nine months. He sighed, remembering the fight they had had about the baby's name the night he was born."I'm going to name him after my daddy," Buck said."No!" Puddyface screamed. "I'm going to name him after my daddy, and if you try to stop me I'll set fire to this house!"As if on cue, Kincaid Castlemaine had rushed into the room."Daddy! Daddy! He's bein' mean to me, Daddy!"Kincaid knelt beside the bed and took Puddyface in his arms. "Now, Sweet Pea, Daddy's ole Puddyface. Give your daddy a great big hug. Ummmm-uhhhhh! 'Deed that's the best hug I ever had! Say I missed my daddy while I was havin' my baby. Say I love my daddy to the end of the numbers. Say I never want my daddy to leave my side ever again, not even for a minute!"She had repeated everything in her babyish voice. Buck shuddered at the memory.Glancing at his watch, he decided he had time for another bourbon before he left for the airport. He drank it down in one swallow, then poured another, savoring its soothing effect on his raw nerves. Thank God he was going on a business trip. Anything to get away from Puddyface's screechy voice.Suddenly, as he drank, his old ambition popped into his head. Funny, he hadn't thought about writing for years. Looking into the bronze liquid in his glass, he imagined himself writing a novel. As a Southern author, he would keep the faith and break up his paragraphswith bourbon. He knew that much about writing, anyhow. You weren't supposed to let your characters talk or think too long. Readers were put off by big blocks of print, so a good writer always ...He poured himself another bourbon.... remembered to indent often. Every time a Southern novelist indented, Buck reflected, his characters moved one step closer to alcoholism.He finished the drink and picked up his briefcase. Puddyface and the boy were waiting to say goodbye to him. He was only too glad to say goodbye to Puddyface, but his son was another matter. Looking at Buckley Kincaid (he had compromised on the name to keep Puddyface from reducing Carmichael Hall to ashes), he wanted to pick him up and kiss him, but he forced the thought away, clenching his jaw until a muscle leaped in his puffy sallow cheek. Fathers and sons didn't slop all over each other like women. It was his duty to make a man of the boy, just as his father had made a man of him.He shook Little Buck's hand instead."Goodbye, son. You're the man of the house now. Look out for things while I'm gone." 

When Buck got back home he found a coy Puddyface and a proud Kincaid Castlemaine seated together on the sofa. She had her arm through her father's and was pressing her breast against him, as usual."We've got news for you," Kincaid said. "Puddyface is goin' to have another baby."Buck staggered. How could she be pregnant? He only slept with her when he was too drunk to know who she was. He walked over to the sideboard and poured himself a bourbon.Puddyface stuck out her wrist and gave it a shake. "See what Daddy gave me? Another charm for my bracelet. See? Isn't that pretty?"She rattled the bracelet and waited for Buck to compliment the gift. Christ, he was so sick of that charm bracelet! She refused to take it off—ever—so that it always rattled in his ear when he slept with her. Kincaid had given it to her on her fifth birthday, adding a charm on every special occasion, taking care to match the charm to the event.She had a little gold tonsil, a little gold appendix, several little gold teeth, a little gold cheerleader, a little gold debutante, a little gold bride, and now ..."See?" she squealed. "It's a little gold baby! Isn't my daddy sweet to me?"Buck downed his drink, then poured another and obediently inspected the charm."It's real cute," he mumbled."Isn't it sweet?" she persisted. "Did you ever see anything sweeter?" "No, never in my whole life. It's the sweetest charm I ever did see."Buck knew the drill by now. Once, when Kincaid had given her a new charm and he had been too drunk to gush over it, she had smashed all the gun cabinets with the fire poker.Buck had many reasons for wishing Kincaid Castlemaine dead, but leading the list was the charm bracelet. Unfortunately, Kincaid was healthy and vigorous and gave every promise of living to a ripe old age. Buck foresaw some thirty more years of charms: a little gold hot flash, a little gold hysterectomy, a little gold nervous breakdown ... . By the time she was fifty she would be a human lightning rod—which, come to think of it, wasn't a bad idea at all. 

A daughter! Buck could not believe his own happiness. Throughout Puddyface's pregnancy he had told himself he wanted another son, but now ...He held the pink-blanketed bundle closer. For the first time in his life he did not feel lonely. At last he had someone he could love freely, someone who would love him back with the same lack of restraint and self-consciousness. You didn't have to make a man out of your daughter, you didn't have to worry about turning your daughter into a sissy. It would be all right now ... . It would be all right.His jaw relaxed and he broke into a tender smile."Kissypoo," he whispered. "Say I'm my daddy's kissypoo, say I'll never be anybody's kissypoo 'cept my daddy's. Say I'm the sweetest little ole kissypoo in the world." "That's it!" he said. "That's what we'll call her—Kissypoo Carmichael."THE FLORENCE KING READER. Copyright © 1995 by Florence King. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.

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Table of Contents

Florence King's Literary Offenses
Author's Note
I Southern Ladies and Gentlemen 1
Big Daddy 3
The Gay Confederation 11
II Wasp, Where is Thy Sting? 17
Schism Is Our Specialty 19
III He: An Irreverent Look at the American Male 43
The Regular Guy 45
IV The Barbarian Princess 55
Chapter V 60
V When Sisterhood Was in Flower 71
VI Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady 209
Prologue 211
Chapter One 212
Chapter Two 224
VII Book Reviews 1984-1993 233
The Death and Life of Sylvia Plath (Ronald Hayman) 235
Rough Magic: A Biography of Sylvia Plath (Paul Alexander) 235
Parachutes and Kisses (Erica Jong) 240
Foreign Affairs (Alison Lurie) 243
Jennifer Fever: Older Men, Younger Women (Barbara Gordon) 245
Femininity (Susan Brownmiller) 247
The Fountain of Age (Betty Friedan) 250
New York Days (Willie Morris) 252
The Funeral Makers (Cathie Pelletier) 255
Daphne Du Maurier (Margaret Forster) 257
Mrs. De Winter (Susan Hill) 259
What Has She Got? (Cynthia S. Smith) 260
Revolution from Within: A Book of Self-Esteem (Gloria Steinem) 263
VIII Reflections in a Jaundiced Eye 267
Two Kidneys in Transplant Time 269
Unsportive Tricks 274
IX Lump It or Leave It 279
As Ye Roe, So Shall Ye Wade 281
Everybody's Gotta Right to Be Famous 292
X "The Misanthrope's Corner": National Review Columns 301
Huggee 303
The Etruscan Smile 306
The High-Strung Class 308
Girltalk 311
She Dies in the End 313
The Lovely Person 315
The Matchbook Man 318
On Tender Hooks 320
Ex Pede Herculem 323
Time Capsule 326
The New Hypochondriacs 328
The Decline and Fall of the Hussy 331
XI "The Open Book": Raleigh News & Observer Columns 335
My Savior, Fannie Hurst 337
Rock 'em, Sock 'em Feminism 340
Carpe Boopsonic 342
How I Became a Songwriter 345
First, We Kill All the Fact Checkers 347
Ask Me No Questions 350
XII Uncollected Articles 353
Privately Eyeing GWTW 355
Bill Clinton: Masobear 359
Eve Fatigue 365
The Edge of the Bed 367
A Wasp Looks at Lizzie Borden: A Centennial Appreciation 368
XIII With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy 381
Timon of Athens 384
Jean-Jacques Rousseau 386
Fisher Ames 392
Gustave Flaubert 395
Richard Nixon 398
Dian Fossey 403
Florence King 409
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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 15, 2004

    Best of the Best

    The only reason I ever laid hands on a reactionary rag like 'The National Review' was because they somehow slipped up and gave Ms. King the back page. One of the greatest, biting, witty commentators on American culture, her writings are completely unappreciated. This woman can WRITE, you will be laughing out loud from cover to cover. All of her books have one problem, the covers are too FAR apart.

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