Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Review: Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty

If you read for plot, you might not get much out of Delta Wedding .

The story follows the Fairchild family as they gather and make preparations for the wedding of their second oldest daughter to the overseer of the family plantation- a suitor that all of them see as being beneath her. There is little real-time tension beyond the little recurring worries that certain preparations might not pan out in time  (will the Shepardess Crooks ordered specially from Memphis for the bridesmaids make it in time?! Inquiring minds want to know!).

Actually, the most interesting plot points are past events that continue to lurk just beneath the surface: the marriage of George, the family’s favorite uncle, to a lowly storekeeper (again, a marriage far below the Fairchilds’ vaunted station), the early death of an aunt and mother, and the movements of the family between their various estates. And at the center of it all is a near-tragedy on a picnic outing, where George stays in front of an oncoming train to help a mentally disabled cousin get her foot loose from the railroad tracks- an event that has resonance because that day cemented the romance of the young bride and the overseer, but also because it threatens to destroy George’s own marriage.

But these subplots only come to us in glimpses. The real reason to read this book is for the rich characterization, the complex tapestry of family relationships and the unforgettable sense of place- which almost stands in as one of the chief characters- (“The bayou had a warm breath, like a person.”)

Welty is undoubtedly a masterful writer. My only previous experience with her is the short story “Where is the Voice Coming From,” which recounts in first-person the tragic death of Medgar Evers, from the point of view of his racist murderer. It’s hard to believe the same woman wrote both pieces. I probably won’t be recommending Delta Wedding  to friends and family, and probably won’t re-read myself it any time soon, but I can already tell it’s a book I’ll be thinking about for a long time to come. And maybe that’s the only mark of a great book that matters.

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