This is a sort of repost, in honor of recovering a book I left here in D.C. last summer and have missed ever since. Now that I have it back, the book is lovelier the further I get into it, and I encourage you to get a copy of your own.
One evening at the bookstore where I worked my senior year of college, I picked up an unassuming novel called Delta Wedding, by Eudora Welty. I figured it was a Grace Livingston Hill-esque romance, all about a bride and groom in the Mississippi Delta with an adorable wedding. Appropriate, since I’m planning my own wedding (does that sound surreal to anyone else?). It turned out to be much more than that.
Dr. Somerville had my Southern Lit. class read a collection of short stories by Eudora Welty; the stories were good, but not enough to make me run to Volume One Books and seek out more Welty. This novel, on the other hand, is something else. It’s astonishingly beautiful. Unlike anything else I’ve ever read, and on the level of my other favorites in terms of loveliness: Robin McKinley, Sheldon Vanauken, Lewis, even Dostoevsky.
There is a wedding woven into the plot of the novel, but it only serves to showcase the eerie, dysfunctional beauty and strangeness of the wealthy Fairchild family, whose daughter is going to be married to their overseer. The story is told through the eyes of an outsider, a young orphaned cousin who is staying with the family for the wedding.
From the first chapter:
The land was perfectly flat and level but it shimmered like the wing of a lighted dragonfly. It seemed strummed, as though it were an instrument and something had touched it. Sometimes in the cotton were trees with one, two, or three arms- she could draw better trees than those were. Sometimes like a fuzzy caterpillar looking in the cotton was a winding line of thick green willows and cypresses, and when the train crossed this green, running on a loud iron bridge, down the center like a golden mark on a caterpillar’s back would be a bayou.
When the day lengthened, a rosy light lay over the cotton. Laura stretched her arm out the window and let the soot sprinkle it. There went a black mule- in the diamond light of far distance, going into the light, a child drove a black mule home, and all behind, the hidden track through the fields was marked by the lifted fading train of dust.
It isn’t a very comprehensive glimpse, but it’s telling. Welty’s portrayal of the romantic and unreal Fairchild family is masterful and compelling. As good as her short stories are, her strength is in her novels, and this one is startlingly lovely.
In case you’re interested in historic nerdiness, here is a New York Times review of the book from 1946.