|Apr 23 2017
The whole town knew—but was what they knew right?
It's amazing how many mid-century authors were compared to Erskine Caldwell, but such was his influence that any pass at southern smalltown loving, feuding, and corruption prompted reviewers to cite him as the king of the genre. Francis Irby Gwaltney's The Whole Town Knew, originally published as The Yeller-Headed Summer, was compared by many to Caldwell. It deals with the rape and murder of a woman, subsequent efforts to find her killer or killers, efforts to keep the details of her free-spirited ways out of court, local newspaper drama, a not-too-bright lawman in way over his head, and more.
This lawman is the center of the book, and his problems mount tremendously—starting with the fact that he's supposed to leave influential members of the community alone and stick to policing poor and powerless folk. Art imitates life, right? The town of Walnut Creek was close kin to the burgs from Caldwell's oeuvre, as were the antics of the townspeople, but the book was well reviewed, leading to Irby—actually a protégée of Norman Mailer, whose mentorship was instrumental—becoming very famous for a time. We love the cover art on this 1955 Popular Library edition. It was painted by Ray Johnson, who always does great work, as you can see here and here.