You are currently browsing the daily archive for January 16, 2009.

Here we move from a story about a man who likes to read tales a terror to a story about a man who lives a tale of terror.  I find the flow from one story to the next in A Curtain of Green as compelling as anything.  I also find myself admiring Welty’s gift for the short story more and more.

 

In Howard, we find a character who does an absolutely horrific thing, yet we are still able to feel sympathy for him.  That isn’t easy for any writer to accomplish.

 

I don’t want to give the game away for anyone who hasn’t read it yet, but Howard stabs the pregnant Marjorie to death.  I’m not even certain why he did it or if he understood what he was doing at the time.  It’s easy enough to gather that he’d been drinking, that he was out of work and out of options, and that he felt extremely pressured both by the fact that his wife was pregnant and that she was talking about his need for work.  The stabbing was impulsive at a point when his frustrations had reached their limit, when he was likely not in his right mind through drink or whatever else.

 

In the initial conversation when Marjorie starts talking about how Howard doesn’t want the baby, I first thought this would turn out to be reminiscent of “Hills Like White Elephants” with a little less anis.  As the conversations drifted into the couple’s desperation in having a baby with no means of supporting it, I thought it would become a tragedy more in keeping with Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure.  Now I wonder if I should quit trying to compare every story I read to something else.  This one is wholly its own.

 

It isn’t even quite like the other Welty stories.  Unlike “Old Mr. Marblehall,” something definite happens.  Unlike “The Hitchhikers,” the act of violence profoundly changes the life of the protagonist.  Yet like other Welty stories, there’s no real moral judgment.  It is what it is.  He does what he does.  Whether he knew what he was doing or not when he plunged the knife into her chest, Howard does understand by the end that nothing can change the horror of her death.

 

And like other Welty stories, the craft is in the subtle ironies.  Marjorie picks a flower for herself at the beginning of the story.  At the end, Howard lets the roses he’s won trail behind him on the street for the neighborhood children to take as he leads the police officer back to Marjorie’s body.  It almost doesn’t matter if you can explain what that means.  You still have to admire the symmetry.

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