Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Delta Wedding (thoughts) and Sense of Place

And now to return you to your regularly-scheduled programming...
a book review! and a last-minute entry into Maggie's sense of place contest.
Sense of Place: Mississippi Delta

She rode by the thick woods where the whirlpool lay, and something made her get off her horse and creep to the bank and look in-she almost never did, it was so creepy and scary....There were more eyes than hers here-frog eyes-snake eyes? She listened to the silence and then heard it stir, churn, churning in the early morning. She saw how snakes were turning and moving in the water, passing across each other just below the surface, and now and then a head horridly sticking up. The vines and the cyprus roots twisted and grew together on the shore and in the water more thickly than any roots should grow, gray and red, and some roots too moved and floated like hair. (161)

Since I don't live anywhere near Mississippi (shame), I had to find a picture online. In the one I chose, I think that the lighting, and the crowded trees are right; the creepiness isn't as strong as in the passage, since there're no snakes in the picture. So, I'm bending the rules and adding one more image...

Now, on to what I thought of the book!

Before this, I hadn't even heard of Eudora Welty; when I saw that Maggie highly recommended her, I decided to give her a try. Welty's known for her short stories, but I really wanted a novel for the challenge, and I went with Delta Wedding since it was longer than her other ones.

If I could describe the book in one word, I'd choose languid ("Slow; lacking vigor or force"). I mean that in a good way; the story feels very dreamy, and I can imagine laying on a porch, with a fan going slowly overhead, being too hot to even hold my head up for very long. The story is a portrait of the well-off Fairchilds family, who have gathered at their plantation for Dabney's wedding. It's set in the 1920s, and it feels very natural. Welty uses first-person throughout, but she switches which character we're seeing the world with. Thus, the reader gets a really good look at both family dynamics and how the different members see the world.

The richness of the story lies in both how different Welty can make the internal monologues of various characters and in her gorgeous prose. I felt like I was in Mississippi, and I strongly identified with all of the people, even though my background is nothing like theirs. This is a book that catches you by surprise; it feels like nothing is happening action-wise, but several characters go through emotional crises that feel as active as more traditional plots.

Ok, I'm not really getting my point across. I feel like this always happens with books that I really love! I think everyone who loves being immersed in a book, who enjoys character-driven novels, or who loves the South should definitely pick this book up. Reading it felt like eating ice cream on a hot day; a decadent treat that ends too quickly.

Favourite Passages

Grass softly touched her legs and her garter rosettes, growing sweet and springy for this was the country. On the narrow little walk along the front of the house, hung over with closing lemon lilies, there was a quieting and vanishing of sound. It was not yet dark. The sky was the color of violets, and the snow-white moon in the sky had not yet begun to shine. (6-7)

The girls that were old enough, dressed in colors called jade and flamingo, danced with each other around the dining-room table until the boys came to get them, and could be watched from the upper landing covorting below, like marvelous mermiads down a transparent sea. (9)

They were so filled with their energy that once when Laura saw some old map on the wall, with the blowing winds in the corners, mischievous-eyed and round-cheeked, blowing the ships and dolphins around Scotland, Laura had asked her mother if they were India's four brothers. (15)

The Fairchilds' movements were quick and on the instant, and that made you wonder, are they free? Laura was certain that they were
compelled-their favorite word. Flying against the bad things happening, they kissed you in rushes of tenderness. Maybe their delight was part of their beauty, its flicker as it went by, and their kissing of not only you but everybody in the room was a kind of spectacle, an outward thing. (18)

Her brown hair and her dark-blue eyes seemed part of her quietness-like the colors of water, reflective. Her Virginia voice, while no softer or lighter than theirs, was a less questioning, a never teasing one. It was a voice to speak to the one child or the one man her eyes would go to. Tyey all watched her with soft eyes, but distractedly. She was one of those little mothers that the wind seems almost to hurt, and they they needed to look after her. (24)

It was eternally cool in summer in this house; like the air of a dense little velvet-green wood it touched your forehead with stillness. Even the phone had a ring like a tiny silver bell. (51)

It was so hard to read at Shellmound. There was so much going on in real life. Laura had tried to read under the bed that morning, but Dabney had found her and pulled her out by the foot. Now with Volune I of
Saint Ronan's Well inside her pinafore, next to her skin, she went tiptoeing in the direction of the library, where no one ever went at this hour. (69)

The dream Ellen told Bluet was an actual one, for it would never have occured to her to tell anything untrue to a child, even an untrue version of a dream. (84)


verbivore said...

What a wonderful review. I once watched a broadcast of Welty reading one of her short stories and I was hooked. She was just amazing. I love her writing and the passages you give here make me want to go get Delta Wedding and find a sunlit porch just to spend the day reading!

jenclair said...

I read a biography of Welty last year and enjoyed it. I really need to get around to Delta Wedding; loved the quotes you used. The photo is perfect. I'm a Louisiana girl and our landscape is the same, just separated by the Mississippi.

MyUtopia said...

Great quotes!

Gentle Reader said...

Great review, and great quotes! I'm looking forward to reading this as one of my choices for the Southern Reading Challenge, too!

Eva said...

Verbivore, those broadcasts sound awesome! I wish I had a porch to be lounging on. :)

Jenclair, I'm so jealous of you living in a place like that. It just looks gorgeous! And the weather seems great (although a little cold in winter).

Myutopia, isn't her writing gorgeous? I could've typed out the whole book as a favourite passage. ;)

Gentle Reader, that's wesome that you're reading it for the challenge as well. I'll look out for your review.

Robin said...

What a lovely review! I absolutely love Welty's writing, but I haven't read this book. This review really makes me want to it. Thanks.

Eva said...

Robin, I'm glad that you enjoyed it. :)