Chris Gager's Reviews > Losing Battles

Losing Battles by Eudora Welty
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May 30, 12

Read from April 25 to 30, 2012

My edition has 416 pages... The plan for now is to alternate between my "to read" list and my awesome collection of rescued books from the town transfer station. This one is from the latter category. Never have read a full novel by Miss Eudora. A few short stories is all. This one's pretty entertaining so far as the author has set for herself the daunting task of setting her story in the midst of an unfolding family reunion. There are so many voices! Apparently there are few if any black people up in the NE hills of Mississippi. Just a lot of poor white farmers. It's the 1930's but I'll bet it's not all that different even today. I suppose they all have televisions but still not much money. EW's approach is considerably lighter than Faulkner or McCarthy but she's every bit as "regional" as those two. Calder Willingham and Erskine Caldwell would fall somewhere in between I guess. I wonder if Marilynne Robinson named her character Jack Boughton from "Home" and "Gilead" as a tribute to this book and it's author? Her Jack is the prodigal while this book's Jack is more Christ-like. One issue for me: everybody at this huge reunion is screaming and yelling at each other. Mostly in good nature but even though I can't literally hear it my brain is getting stressed. Weird... Not the same edition I have which is a paperback from 1978 - Vintage Books. Originally published in 1970. And yes, she starts out with an avalanche of similes. But that lets up after a while.
Day two... Not much going on but the hot dry August weather and the neverending parade of colorful characters. Three set pieces so far: the arrival of the relatives, the uncertain fate of Mrs. Judge's Buick and currently the big reunion feast. I think the Reverend is still speaking but everyone's digging in anyway. Mostly it's all a set-up for lots of story-telling and the word-painting of the social, historical, and natural setting. Miss Eudora likes to get into her descriptions of the natural world as much as the human one. Similar to Willa Cather and SE Nebraska. So... is this all just a bit overwrought and overwritten? I guess you could say that. My feeling is that it's important to accept what you're getting and hang in there if at all possible with any book that's a challenge but might seem worthy. This book can be challenging at times. I'm still confused as to the precise physical/geographical relationship between Banner Top and the road. And it does matter(sort of)! There can be so much going on verbally at one time, in one moment, that it's head-scratching. I keep having to go back and re-read s-l-o-w-l-y and mindfully. Even then the details don't always add up. One quote of so many to chose from:
"Uncle Nathan remained standing at Granny's back, his hand on her chair, a fixture there from now on. He had hair streaked with white, tangled and falling to his shoulders. His old coat and pants had been patched again on top of last year's patches and, though neat, had been put on rough-dry. He gave off a steam that spoke of the river and now and then of tar. His face was brown and wrinkled as the meat of a Stuart pecan.
'You a bachelor?' asked Aunt Cleo."(ha-ha... no shit lady)!
Sorry to all you Goodreads complainers out there a-raggin' on Miss Eudora but cain't everbody write like that. Funny, and moving...
Day three... The supper's about over and the women have gathered to talk with a couple of men allowed. They reminisce about Miss Julia the schoolteacher and how they all resisted her attempts to educate them. At this point one can see some themes coming through. One's about how these people must buy in to the whole family system and history. It gives them strength even as it limits the possibilities for their lives. They're proud of resisting Miss Julia's attempts to make their lives better and more "expanded". They don't have much regard for her. She's not one of them. We get into Gloria's story, a pretty grim and serious business but again the family emotional environment is somewhat crude and unsympathetic. Strange...
Day four... I only read a bit this weekend as I was sports-absorbed(NFL draft). The slow revealing of Miss Julia's story continues as Lexie and the Judge have much to contribute. A cautionary tale about getting old in the company of unsympathetic, closed-minded, emotionally limited (non-family)people. The meaning of the title becomes clearer as it applies to the teacher's life and therefore the author's as well since she was a teacher.
Damned computer just lost my final entry...
Day five and done... A tough book to rate as it comes in two distinct parts: one is the backwoods slapstick stuff with the car and the other is the serious family story stuff and the stuff about the teacher's life. It's part Faulkner and part "The Dukes of Hazzard". By the end it also reminded me of "O Brother Where Art Thou?" and was the only place I can recall other than "Outer Dark" that used the word "chap" for "baby". 3.75 rounds up to 4 stars.
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04/25/2012 page 183
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Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Elizabeth (new)

Elizabeth Mundie I've only read short stories by her. I'll have to check this out. I love her story, "The Petrified Man"


Chris Gager Elizabeth wrote: "I've only read short stories by her. I'll have to check this out. I love her story, "The Petrified Man""

The only one I remember off-hand is "Why I Live at the P.O.". Even the title's crazy. The story is too. It was in a SS collection I read a while back. This book is pretty good but requires patience.


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