Luke, I am your father
It has some structural similarities to a couple of other books I've been thinking about lately, Conrad's Heart of Darkness and Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. In each case the story is told by a narrator but the central character, part man and part myth, is often offstage.
That central character in ATKM is Willie Stark, a thinly disguised simulacrum of Huey Long, the Governor and later Senator. The narrator, Jack Burden, is a troubled, cynical, and difficult child of privilege who nonetheless rejects family money. After various failures (a PhD dissertation abandoned almost complete, a rejected proposal, a failed marriage) he finds work as a reporter and starts covering Willie Stark, teetotaler, idealistic populist, self-educated lawyer, and backwoods farmer who is lured into running for governor, subsequently becoming the Governor's right hand man.
Warren won a Pulitzer for this novel, and he won another for his poetry. The poet doesn't spurn sometimes flowery language:
Sugar-Boy was driving the Cadillac, and it was a pleasure to watch him. Or it would have been if you could detach your imagination from the picture of what near a couple of tons of expensive mechanism looks like after it’s turned turtle three times at eighty and could give your undivided attention to the exhibition of muscular co-ordination, satanic humor, and split-second timing which was Sugar-Boy’s when he whipped around a hay wagon in the face of an oncoming gasoline truck and went through the rapidly diminishing aperture close enough to give the truck driver heart failure with one rear fender and wipe the snot off a mule’s nose with the other.
Warren, Robert Penn. All the King's Men (p. 5). HMH Books. Kindle Edition.I found it a gripping read as well as deeply insightful about Louisiana, politics, politics Louisiana style, and human nature.