The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
by Eudora Welty
Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 622 pp., $17.50
My experience in reading the whole body of stories (a number of them encountered for the first time) was to some degree disconcerting. For I had assumed, naively, that they would repeat a certain shapeliness of development appropriate to a career as distinguished and as frequently honored as Eudora Welty’s—that they would show a rising curve of achievement, followed by a high plateau of steady production above which several exceptional pieces would glisten like peaks. Instead, the most original and interesting stories are clustered, in my opinion, at the very beginning of the thirty years of publication; and while some of the later stories are indeed accomplished, they seem to mark a return to the strengths of an earlier mode rather than an advance into new and challenging territory.
With that first book, A Curtain of Green, which appeared in 1941 with an introduction by Katherine Anne Porter, Eudora Welty made a debut that was impressive even in a period when the supply of new Southern talent seemed inexhaustible. No other writer—not even the Faulkner of The Hamlet—had attained her mastery of the demotic speech of the region or her ability to work it into a grotesque, often loony, poetry of dislocation and surprise. “Why I Live at the P.O.” remains the most popular of her stories, a small classic of the genre—and for good reason.
It would be a holiday. It wasn’t five minutes before Uncle Rondo suddenly appeared in the hall in one of Stella-Rondo’s flesh-colored kimonos, all cut on the bias, like something Mr. Whitaker [Stella-Rondo’s deserted husband] probably thought was gorgeous.
“Uncle Rondo!” I says. “I didn’t know who that was! Where are you going?”
“Sister,” he says, “get out of my way, I’m poisoned.”
“If you’re poisoned stay away from Papa-Daddy,” I says. “Keep out of the hammock. Papa-Daddy will certainly beat you on the head if you come within forty miles of him. He thinks I deliberately said he ought to cut off his beard after he got me the P.O., and I’ve told him and told him and told him, and he acts like he just don’t hear me. Pappa-Daddy must of gone stone deaf.”
“He picked a fine day to do it then,” says Uncle Rondo, and before you could say “Jack Robinson” flew out in the yard.
What he’d really done, he’d drunk another bottle of that prescription. He does it every single Fourth of July as sure as shooting, and it’s horribly expensive. Then he falls over in the hammock and snores…
Papa-Daddy woke up with this horrible yell and right there without moving an inch he tried to turn Uncle Rondo against me.
So at supper Stella-Rondo speaks up and says she thinks Uncle Rondo ought to try to eat a little something. So finally Uncle Rondo said he would try a little cold biscuits and ketchup, but that was all …