Larry Bassett's Reviews > The Wide Net and Other Stories

The Wide Net and Other Stories by Eudora Welty
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's review
Jul 13, 11

bookshelves: fiction, short-stories, southern-writers
Read from July 10 to 13, 2011

As I experience Eudora Welty, I know that there is much that I am missing. I continue to hope that one day I will be able to return to her books and award them with the star ratings that I am sure they must deserve. But today her short stories mostly remain a mystery to me.

The Wide Net and Other Stories was published in 1943. This book was read as a part of The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty. The setting for the stories is the Natchez Trace of Mississippi.

Natchez Trace National Scenic Trail: The Old Natchez Trace was a 500-mile footpath that ran through Choctaw and Chickasaw lands connecting Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee. You can experience portions of that journey the way earlier travelers did - on foot. Today there are four separate trails totaling 65 miles and they are administered by the Natchez Trace Parkway.

The book of stories of the Natchez Trace begins with First Love. You cannot simply read this story with no background. At least I couldn’t. I tried and just couldn’t figure out what was going on. What did Aaron Burr have to do with Mississippi? Ask Google! Unless you have the information stored in your head, the research slows you down. The cadence of the lines is lost to the stop and start. There is a rhythm that almost begs to be read aloud to be experienced in full.

In reading, you will likely be reminded of Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner. Clearly a Southern writer like them, Welty respects her often peculiar characters. She uses sly humor well, as in the title story The Wide Net where a bridegroom searching the river for his presumably drowned wife nonetheless is able to haul up a slew of fish to be sold on the streets of town. Each of her main characters is memorable, with the finely drawn quirkiness that stamps them as individuals.

Another story is The Purple Hat , a mere six pages long. And although I have no idea what it means, I know what happens and could tell you. So I will.

Two men come into a bar during a thunder storm and sit at opposite ends of the bar. One man, the talkative one, is fat. The other, the quiet one, is thin, young and unshaven. The only other person there is the bartender who serves them each a drink. The fat man launches into a story of a woman in a purple hat who has come into the Palace of Pleasure every day for thirty years and meets a young man there. The fat man allows as how she is a ghost and he has seen her murdered twice. The fat man tells the story of the murders. The cathedral bell chimes at 5 o’clock and the young, thin man gets up and leaves the bar having never said a word. The fat man shortly after pays the bar bill and also leaves the bar but not before he says he will be back tomorrow to continue the story.

The six pages are filled with descriptions, verbal and nonverbal interactions and mystery. And there you have it. No car chases. And, just like that, we are on to the next story. Another mystery of meaning that will have to wait until another day to be deciphered.

How do you read Eudora Welty? Her words seem magical at times, promising more than I can know. I will put her on the shelf with hope and expectation. Surely there is a way to understand her.

Or as someone else said some time ago:

“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”

Or maybe: “Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?”

Source: A.A. Milne


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