by Eudora Welty
So a mere one post after having made a semi-big deal about the group protagonist thing and the amazing sense of place to be found in Ousmane Sembene's 1960 Les bouts de bois de Dieu, I find I can say nearly the same thing about Eudora Welty's 1946 Delta Wedding (in her Complete Novels [New York: The Library of America, 1998, 89-336]), another ensemble affair but one set not in Senegal but in the American South, sans any speculation about Welty's Marxist politics and/or her filmmaking interests possibly informing her storytelling style of course. In fact, it's a shame that Welty's novel mostly takes place on a Mississippi plantation because it would have been awfully convenient for me to recycle parts of that previous review. In any event, I guess I should start by noting that Welty's moving drama about finding a place in the world--in marriage or out of it, among family, at peace with yourself--is framed by the arrival of nine year old Laura McRaven at her cousins' house the week that young, coltish Dabney is set to marry young, racist Troy. Little Laura, who has recently lost her mother to an early death, looks for and eventually finds a measure of solace during the time she spends among her exuberant relatives, and the narrative payoff of that particular story thread was way worth it to me by the end even though there were a couple of moments in the middle where I had to roll my eyes with impatience at the manic theatrics of one too many batshit old maid aunts or the marital dramz between George Fairchild and his annoyingly high maintenance runaway wife Robbie, etc. From a stylistic rather than a plot perspective, though, Welty does several things here that make me look forward to reading more by her in the future. For starters, I'm pleased to concur with Emily of the late, great and sorely missed Evening All Afternoon blog that one of the strengths of Delta Wedding is Welty's Woolf-like ability to get inside her characters' heads--or as Emily put it in her fine piece on the novel, "Like Virginia Woolf (of whom Welty strongly reminds me), Welty astounds with her ability to communicate the unexpected yet crucial importance of certain crystallized moments in time - the tiny catalysts that prompt a blaze of emotion or insight out of all proportion to the initial tiny spark - and the deep, quiet pools of reflection that unfurl within her characters at the oddest moments." This point shouldn't and really can't be overstated in my opinion, in particular in light of the various characters young and old whose POV are being juggled at any given point in time. Another of the novel's strengths is the way its author balances the interiority touched on above with frisky wordsmith descriptions of characters who are the possessors of "shrimp-pink toes" (217) or one who's said to be "wrinkled in her soul" (244). Finally, to return to Delta Wedding's sense of place and its intersection with that part of the story having to do with finding a place in the world and Emily's point about Welty's skill in communicating "the unexpected yet crucial importance of certain crystallized moments in time," I was very much impressed by the stealth with which the novelist ultimately produced a chiaroscuro effect on the canvas of her wedding story by applying a few lightning flash references to drowning pools, fatal accidents on the train tracks, a knife fight among field hands, and having a child parrot a school lesson explaining that "Yazoo means River of Death" (283). A novel of more than usual warmth and overflowing with ebullience but an ebullience profoundly haunted and hounded by death.
Eudora Welty (1909-2001)