I have been stuck indoors in bad weather for almost a week and have read a LOT of books. This one was one the last ones I read and just happened to be on the shelf in my friend's house. I have known about Eudora Welty for many years but had never read anything by her before. She lived almost all her life in Mississippi and died there in 2001 at the age of 92.
Many novelists write autobiographically, but Welty evidently made a conscious effort not to do so in most of her fiction. Instead, as she said, she tried 'to enter the mind, heart and skin of a human being who is not myself. Whether this happens to be a man or a woman, old or young, with skin black or white, the primary challenge lies in making the jump itself. It is the act of a writer's imagination I set most high'. In this book, however, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973, she seems to have included some memories of her own childhood and of the lives of her parents. But that is really by the by. This is a most compelling book, in the quietest way. It tells the story of Laurel McKelva who returns to her Southern home from Chicago when her 70 year old father, Judge McKelva, has to have an eye operation. After ten years of widower-hood, the Judge has recently remarried and his flighty young wife Fay is possessive and resentful of his returning daughter. That is how it starts. But events take over, and Laurel is forced to rethink her own past, her childhood, her memories. I particularly liked the contrast between the two women -- Laurel so quiet, restrained, well-bred, thoughtful, and the terrifyingly convincing Fay, who takes out her damaged, unstable personality through hatred and anger. But there are also wonderful scenes where whole families appear, and again Welty shows such telling contrasts -- Fay's rough, honest, sad family with Laurel's conventional traditional Southern one, for example. So understated, all this, and yet so utterly believable.
If you have never read Welty, do read this book. It is so subtle and so thought-provoking.