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The last story in Welty’s The Golden Apples might just be my favorite, but I think it can only be a favorite if you’ve already read everything leading up to it.  It’s like a TV finale in which the whole cast of the show is brought back to reminisce over its life.  In this story, the whole cast of the book is brought back to reminisce over the town for the occasion of Katie Rainey’s funeral.  It ties things up, answers questions about what happened later as a result of incidents in earlier stories.  Yet it is also fully its own story with its own impact.  It’s a story about a woman who has lost her mother and lost her way.  It’s about her memories and her grief.  It’s beautifully lyrical while packing a real emotional punch. 

 

I wish I had time to say more.  I’m working on my presentation for our Welty day at JCJC, though, and I have to put my thoughts about this into another format.

 

I don’t think I’ve accomplished what I set out to do with this blog, mainly because I’m so busy that I haven’t been able to devote the kind of attention to it I wanted.  I’ve decided that means it’s just going to take longer to do what I wanted. 

 

I said I would blog at least until Welty’s birthday on April 13.  I’m going to keep going after that.  I may not blog daily, but I’ll keep blogging some for the next few months.  I want to blog through all of Welty’s work, and I’m not nearly there yet.  I also want to blog through her short stories a second time.  That should keep me busy for the rest of the year.

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I love this weird story.  I love it all the more because I’ve followed the cycle of stories to this point so that I have a whole Mississippi town in my head as background to Eugene MacLain in San Francisco.

 

Eugene hits his wife.  That part I don’t love.  I’m not a fan of violence.  Yet this is the kind of violence that makes you stop and stare.  It seems at first to have happened for no reason at all.  She does something perfectly innocent and unobtrusive, and he hits her.  Then he just gets up and leaves.

 

The rest of the day is spent in a dream-like fog as he follows a Spanish musician around San Francisco.  There’s no conversation between the two men, as presumably they don’t speak the same language, but they do hang out together all day. 

 

Meanwhile the real story unfolds in the thought processes of Eugene as he dwells on this fact that he has hit his wife.  He doesn’t know why he’s done it, but somehow it is easier to feel sympathy for him than for his twin brother because he is aware that he’s done wrong.  He doesn’t exactly express remorse, but he does express surprise and awareness at what he’s done.

 

He also has issues.  Not that issues excuse him, but he and his wife have lost a child.  He has clearly not dealt with this loss.  He does not know why he hits his wife, and at the same time he does not know why his child has died.  Both questions repeatedly run through his mind.  These are mysteries to him, both intertwined with the mystery of the music and musician. 

 

Somehow that all adds up to an emotionally intense story despite the fact that it is about a man who has no real clue what he’s feeling or why.

This is a disturbing story about a very unhappy man.  Ran MacLain, one of the twin sons of King MacLain has left his wife Jinny Love Stark because of her unfaithfulness.  The whole town knows.  He leaves, yet he doesn’t.  He still sees his wife and her family and the man everyone speculates that she has chosen over him.  He sees her and spends a great deal of time reflecting on his feelings about her and about what everyone in the town has to say about the two of them.  All the while he has a young woman named Maideen (ironic little play on maiden) tagging along with him.  He says he’s never kissed her, but what he does do does not turn out well at all.  At best, he seriously and wrongfully takes advantage of her.  This might be more aptly called rape.  And he shows no remorse on her behalf.  He even seems to blame her.  She is a victim of his depression.  He feels sorry for himself.  I have a much harder time.   Still, this is really quite emotionally powerful as a story.

I feel bad for “Moon Lake,’ the story, because I did not give it the attention it deserve. I read it in fragments, spread out over too much time. It’s not the story. It’s me. I’m fragmented.

So…in my fragmented state, I’ll just say this. There is a child who calls herself Easter in this story. There is a death and resurrection. Think baptism. Think Easter. Think about the fact that the story isn’t about the girl who drowns and is revived. It’s about those who observed the event.

There’s a wonderful scene in “Moon Lake” in which the children are arguing over Easter’s name.  She spells it out, and it is spelled “Esther,” but she insists that she is called “Easter.”  Jinny Love and Nina try to tell her she can’t do that.  Her name can only be hers as it is spelled.  Jinny Love says, “Spell it right, and it’s real.”  Like nothing can be real if it isn’t spelled write.  It’s a brilliant commentary on the relationship between text and reality, between perception and text…all told through the mouths of babes.

In the next scene of  “Moon Lake,” the competition between the town kids and the orphans continues with a little gambling.  Good stuff all the way around, but my favorite line comes with Easter’s reaction to being taunted by Jinny Love:  “Victory with a remark attached did not crush Easter at all.”  I love it.

Swimming lessons are the focal point of the opening scene of “Moon Lake,” the lessons and the cruel tension between town kids and orphans.  Mrs. Gruenwald, the swimming instructor, is every bit as fascinating as the children.  And, as always, Welty has an incredible sense of closure.  The scene ends with this:  “Mrs. Gruenwald, who capered before breakfast, believed in evolution, and put her face in the water, was quarter of a mile out.  If she said anything, they couldn’t hear her for the frogs.”

Beautiful.  The “before breakfast” part makes me think of the line in Through the Looking Glass about believing impossible things before breakfast.  This is wonderful language to depict the child’s view.  And the frogs.  Oh yeah, the frogs.

King MacLain is back in this story and as larger than life in his nefarious ways as ever. Mattie Will, aka Mrs. Junior Holifield, encounters him in the woods in a scene that sounds an awful lot like rape with a halfway willing victim. She at least didn’t fight it, for whatever reason. Juxtaposed against tale is Mattie’s memory of rolling in the grass with King’s twin sons as a girl. Tales of innocence and experience it would seem in a manner that would do William Blake proud.

This story needed more attention than I had to give it.  Nearly 80 pages long, it is told from two different points of view and spans a time period of several years.  If you read a few pages here and there, as I did, it’s easy to lose track of characters and shifts into flashbacks.  But that’s okay.  I’m glad I read every word of it.  I’m just looking forward to a time when I can read it all in a sitting with more time to devote.

 

Parts of the story center around a piano recital in the past, and parts of the story center around a fire, or would be house fire, in the present, the present being the 1920s or so.  We see the events filtered through the eyes of Cassie and her brother Loch.  They mostly have to do with the piano teacher, Miss Eckhart, and the best piano student in town, Virgie Rianey.  Cassie has a long history of following behind Virgie in piano lessons, but by the time they are teenagers, Miss Eckhart has deemed insane, and Virgie is sneaking into abandoned houses with a sailor.

 

In the end, Cassie thinks this:

 

What she was certain of was the distance those two had gone, as if all along they had been making a trip (which the sailor was only starting).  It had changed them.  They were deliberately terrible.  They looked at each other and neither wished to speak.  They did not even horrify each other.  No one could touch them now either.

 

Danke schoen…That much was out in the open.  Gratitude—like rescue—was simply no more.  It was not only past; it was outworn and cast away.  Both Miss Eckhart and Virgie Rainey were human beings terribly at large, roaming on the face of the earth.  And there were others of them—human beings, roaming like lost beasts.

 

Who cares if this makes Cassie judgmental or small minded?  This is powerful writing.  This will make the spine tingle.  The story could be twice this length and contain only this passage worth reading and still be considered great.