November 27, 2012

CCLaP Rare: "Kit Brandon" (SIGNED first edition), by Sherwood Anderson

Kit Brandon, by Sherwood Anderson

Kit Brandon, by Sherwood Anderson

Kit Brandon, by Sherwood Anderson

Kit Brandon, by Sherwood Anderson

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Kit Brandon
By Sherwood Anderson (1936)
SIGNED first edition, first printing

DESCRIPTION: Sherwood Anderson is better known these days for what he inspired than what he did; like fellow Chicago-connected writer Theodore Dreiser, he came of age as an artist at the end of the Victorian Age but didn't make his name until the decades after, for writing proto-Modernist tales that bridge these two eras just in time to profoundly influence the next generation of Modernists in the '20s and '30s who really cemented the tropes. His most famous is the rough, conceptually experimental story collection Winesburg, Ohio (BONUS: read CCLaP's review of Winesburg), but he has others that are actually better; take for example 1936's Kit Brandon, a nearly forgotten title now from near the end of his career, when society at large considered him somewhat of a has-been (except for the academic crowd, who never stopped adoring him), but when in hindsight we can now see that he was actually at the peak of his powers. A slippery "oral history" that sounds real but is ultimately fiction, done in the Social Realist style that was so popular at the time, it tells the story of our eponymous hero, a tomboy-beautiful hillbilly girl who at first tries to have a traditional career in the booming new industrial landscape of Appalachia, but who is eventually seduced into the sexy, dangerous world of Prohibition-era bootlegging, eventually becoming a folk legend among locals for the sheer number of times she's able to outwit and out-run the law.

As such, then, the main reason to treasure this novel is for the unflinching way it looks at Prohibition itself, informing us of the realities behind both the ban and subsequent rise in moonshine hooch that have now become forgotten in our present nostalgic haze; for as this book makes clear, almost nobody who supported Prohibition back then really thought that the ban would get rid of liquor altogether, but rather that it would simply make it so expensive that the working poor would no longer be able to afford it, thus eliminating the violence and crime among these mostly Irish and German unruly crowds that was the main selling point of Prohibition in the first place. But little did anyone realize just how scarily efficient these working poor would become at first producing mass quantities of cheap grain alcohol in the unwatched back woods of the vast American heartland, then easily shipping it nationwide through a sophisticated corporate-type network that would eventually come to be known as "organized crime;" and that's essentially what this book is, a complex and layered look at all these subjects through the prism of our "Bonnie without Clyde," including the acknowledgement that it was the changing landscape of the Midwest from agricultural to industrial that fueled a lot of this gray-market entrepreneuralism in the first place, and that Prohibition failed essentially because east-coast liberal elites vastly underestimated just how crafty and clever the working poor could actually be when they had to. It's a shame that Anderson never rose to the heights in his own times of such contemporary peers as John Steinbeck and Richard Wright, because his works are more nuanced and have a longer shelf life than most of the Social Realist writers of the period; so let's be grateful that the proper respect has finally been afforded to him in our own times, with this signed first edition being a great addition to any fan's library.

CONDITION: Book: Fine (F). Dust jacket: Very Good Minus (VG-). Jacket has a 1" square chip to bottom of spine not affecting text, a 1/4" chip to top corner of spine, and a tiny chip at the top edge of the front panel, and is otherwise whole, bright and clean, and preserved in a Broart cover. SIGNED BY THE AUTHOR in fountain pen on the free endpaper, who inscribed this copy "To Roger & Ruth Sergel, With Love Sherwood Anderson."

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Filed by Jason Pettus at 9:45 AM, November 27, 2012. Filed under: Literature | Literature:Fiction | Profiles | Reviews |