Edition: Doubleday, Moran & Co.
Review number: 305
Cabbages and Kings is still a rather unusual book, even after the experimentation with narrative form that has characterised much of twentieth century literature. With Roads of Destiny it was clear that O. Henry occasionally wanted to do new things with the short story form, and not just continue to produce the slightly sentimental shorts which had brought him popularity.
He experimented with the form of the short story while continuing to write about the same sorts of subjects in the same accessible style. In Cabbages and Kings it is the idea of a collection of short stories that Henry plays with, writing what is in effect a novel consisting of short stories. Some parts of the book amount to chapters put in to glue the stories together, while other stories have little relevance to the main plot.
This main plot is concerned with revolutionary politics in the fictional South American state of Anchuria, particularly the involvement with them of American citizens resident in the country. The President of Anchuria, Miraflores, has fled the capital with $100,000 from the treasury; he must be captured before he reaches the coast. In the coastal town of Coralio, he and his mistress are discovered, Miraflores kills himself, but the money disappears. The only two people who could know anything about it, the American Goodwin who found him, and Miraflores' mistress, now married to Goodwin, are too important to be suspected, and Goodwin is well known for his honesty.
As the new president, Losada, begins to show signs that his rule will become oppressive even by the standards of South America at the time, opposition grows; and this forms the background to Cabbages and Kings. However, the best stories as short stories are those which have little relationship with this background, such as the sequence starting with Shoes centring on the young US consul John de Graffenried Atwood.
This indicates that in the end Cabbages and Kings fails as an experiment; Henry's craft is so wedded to the short story form of which he was one of the greatest masters that the extended structure does not come at all naturally. The single background is a bit of a straightjacket, and it tends to fragment whenever Henry has an idea which interests him.