Reading Matters

Welty’s ‘Wide Net’ catches both joy and pain

It’s good to have a patient husband, one who will often agree to listen as you read aloud a (long) short story.

We did this on a recent, sunny afternoon because of a question posed in last week’s New York Times: What subjects are underrepresented in contemporary fiction?

Ah! The subject of joy, said novelist Ayana Mathis. Especially the kind of joy that erupts during a painful time. To illustrate, she used an incident in Eudora Welty’s short story, “The Wide Net,” where William Wallace feels a “bucolic rapture” as he and his neighbors drag the Pearl River for his pregnant wife’s body.

What a deft and graceful writer is Welty. How she pops with imagination, often of the fantastical variety. How wicked and sly her humor.

And her descriptions: “The winding river looked old sometimes, when it ran wrinkled and deep under high banks where the roots of trees hung down, and sometimes it seemed to be only a young creek, shining with the colors of wildflowers.”

“The Wide Net” is the story of one man’s journey – frightening and magical and exuberant – to become more intimate. It says how hard some men must wrestle with the elements before they are fit for marriage.

And it’s one heck of a joyful read.