Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Why I Live at the P.O." (1941)

Read story by Eudora Welty online.

I struggled some with Eudora Welty's colorful Southern story full of colorful Southern people doing colorful Southern things. Welty was a native of Mississippi so the tone, approach, and subject matter are little surprise. I haven't read much of her—and, I'm sorry to say, I mix her up with Edith Wharton (the initials, no doubt, probably combined with the gender and general "back there" timeframe). This is also one of those stories full of precision Southern dialect. But dialect is often a tough go for me, no matter how precise. Welty was also a photographer and the story in large part is spun out of one of her photos, a picture of a woman ironing in the back of a post office. It's told first-person by a young woman, known as Sister, and the primary plot point, as suggested by the title, is an explanation of why she moved to the post office. The home situation is clannish: there's Stella-Rondo, who is Sister's sister, and Papa-Daddy, their grandfather, and Mama, their mother, and so on. Stella-Rondo has recently moved home again after a short period of being married, and appeared with a 2-year-old no one has ever heard about. Stella-Rondo claims the girl is adopted, but Sister does not believe that. It's a pretty riotous crew all around, with lots of ongoing friction, catcalling, and shenanigans between family members. The weirdest turn for me was when Uncle Rondo, Mama's brother, showed up wearing one of Stella-Rondo's dresses. Everyone thinks it's in poor taste but rolls with it. The story takes place on a 4th of July, underlining the narrator's independence, or something. I understand this is all comical business, but it never seemed very funny. The general dynamic between most family members I would characterize as abusive, but maybe that's just me. I understand it's exaggerated for grotesque effect, but even when you let the air out of it it's still pretty awful. Let's apply good old Occam's razor to Stella-Rondo's situation, given what we know from the story. She probably got pregnant, moved away, and came back two or three years later with a child. The marriage was real enough but short-lived. Now she wants to claim the man she married is not the father. It's ambiguous, but the implications are so rotten it's hard to find much comical about it. I probably need to relax and go with the flow a little bit more on this one.

Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Robert Penn Warren and Albert Erskine

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