“Tough old world, baby. If you're not bolted together tightly, you're gonna shake, rattle, and roll before you turn thirty.” ― Stephen King, The Shining That is absolutely one of my favorite quotes of all time, and I use it often. It definitely resonates for "All the King's Men," where we see Gov Willie Stark trundle into alcoholism, Sadie Burke take asylum literally, Judge Irwin take his life, Ellis Burden give up on his entire family over something as prosaic as infidelity, Tom Stark blow a free ride on hubris, Adam Stanton commit murder AND die over his very adult sister's honor, and I always felt Anne Stanton was a walking panic attack in a too-tight girdle. This was the first piece of genuine LITERATURE I have read this year. It practically leapt off the page in bold Helvetica ital: I am Jack's great twitching allegory. The prose, the imagery, and the structure were such that it would have become a favorite book if not for the period 40s practice of even "good" people using the n-word and treating every black character like a minstrel character, and not a particularly bright one besides. Jack Burden, our wry, cynical protagonist, sees himself as "a student of history" which allows him not only his primary function for the Governor (as the muckraker), but also as our narrator. "History is blind, man is not" the epigraph informs us, but Jack Burden, for a student of history AND a man whose job it is to know everything, misinterprets almost every relationship he has, save perhaps his allegiance with "Cousin Willie." Jack's role as the student of history, the one who sees, leads into my least favorite part of the book, an interlude regarding Civil War era brothers that seems to exist only to 1. to foreshadow the wages of infidelity and 2. describe in lurid and repulsive detail the sale of a young "ocotroon," a scene which has probably been used in multiple lit and feminist theory courses as the most egregious example of the male gaze (let me put it this way -- I'm bisexual and have read and written fan fiction erotica for years and this scene was GROSS and debasing, and not in the good way). Set in the late teens to the thirties, "All the King's Men" so perfectly captured the early 20th century in the south that I could hear and smell New Orleans and Orleans county, despite the fact that the book never really identifies New Orleans as its setting. I loved the character of Sadie Burke, because a feminist, sexually independent female king-maker is not what I expected out of this Jim Crow era book, and I still liked her denouement, despite the fact that her climatic moment was motivated by romantic jealousy. The fact that she exists is revolutionary in and of itself. Most of the other female characters get plotted by their sexual peccadilloes: an over-sexed mother, a mother-wife who gets old and plain, a college girl who plays the field, and I don't know what is going on with Anne Stanton -- her archetype is all over the place. She starts out as Jack Burden's ivory statue who comes to life (there's A LOT in Jack's early description's of Anne that focus on minutia -- his obsession with her neck, her skin, her laugh -- that eerily echo the objectiving, othering verbiage you'll read from Incel posters on Reddit) and then morphs into Jack's parking buddy who is surprisingly a goer (at least in "Over the panties, no bra, blouse unbuttoned, Calvin's in a ball on the front seat past eleven on a school night?" way) but who speaks in sing-song, baby talk nursery rhymes while dry humping. Later she acquiesces in an almost sacrificial way to Jack's first offering of coitus, which causes Jack to realize she's an actual person, and later becomes "on the shelf," a 34 year old spinster, and then is suddenly Willie Stark's latest extracurricular love muppet and I mean, color me BEYOND surprised. What a twist! I mean, seriously, I couldn't have been more surprised if the obvious subtext of a triad between Jack and Anne and her brother Adam came to fruition. It's far more than a elegantly misogynistic or racially uneasy read -- it's grim. Beautifully grim, but all of the characters are doomed. If the Judge had never boned Jack's mom. If they had married after her first divorce. If Jack had never met Adam and Anne. If Jack had just married Anne. If, if, if. My favorite discovery about this book, however, is how Jack Burden, the student of history, is both inert and removed as both narrator and protagonist, and yet the catalyst of all the damage done.