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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Monday, July 4, 2011

One of Eudora Welty's best stories: The Whole World Knows

Eudora Welty's rather long short story The Whole World Knows (I like the title but couldn't recall it exactly and had to look it up after completing this post), about the dissolution of Ran McLain's marriage, in her collection The Golden Apples in "Collected Stories" - is definitely one of her most imaginative and one of her best. As we see from many stories building up to this one, Welty increasingly experiments with narrative strategies and with multiple points of view within the same story - sometimes to the detriment of her material - there's sometimes too much of the author's hand/handiwork, and, speaking of hands, sometimes you want her to reach out a hand and help you through the difficult narratives but she just won't, doesn't. In Whole World, she uses these narrative devices to excellent effect - sometimes just pretty straightforward 3rd-person omniscient narration focused on Ran, but at other times we're right in his head as he indulges in fantasies of attacking the guy his wife had an affair with, other times she has one of the bank customers carry the story forward in monologue, addressed to Ran at the teller window, elsewhere Ran addresses a "father" (we can easily surmise this is a form of confession). Most of all, I think among all the stories up to this point it is one of the fullest examinations of a character in time of personal, emotional crisis and one of the best portraits of her smaltown/small city community, named Morgana. Ran throughout is carrying on some kind of relation with a much younger woman - it almost seems like she's a teenager, but evidently that's not so - toward the end he takes her for a night of drinking in Vicksburg, a beautifully told sequence, drinking on a barge, then driving in the night to the river's edge, then to a little rental cabin - as is true throughout Welty's fiction the sex is quick, violent, cruel, unsatisfying - and in this case the characters flirt with suicide, homicide - the end a bit unclear but the fact that the story is a confession does give us some clues. Like all great writers, Welty is excellent at fathoming the consciousness of others, she is extremely observant of the details of the life around her, she has a very limited sphere yet she knows that territory intimately. This story is one of her deepest explorations of mature (or immature?) adult love. Her view of love is not comforting in any sense, but the characters and their struggles are real and poignant and full. Next story in collection - Music from Spain - I'm still reading, opens with a dramatic action, unusual in its precision, for Welty, and then becomes a day of wandering. Also unusual in that it takes place in San Francisco (albeit among transplanted Missisipians). Will look at it more fully in future post.

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