Listen now (61 mins) | Welcome to a new series of episodes on a new book! This week David, Heidi, and Sean are digging into Eudora Welty’s Pulitzer Prize winner, discussing such topics as the book’s similarities to Jane Austen’s work, whether Faye is purely an antagonist, the very Southern sense of humor in the story, and much more! Happy listening!
So many good comments. To the question of sympathizing with Faye, I can to a tiny extent. She is extremely annoying but she actually reveals herself. She also wasn’t given as much by life so you give her a pass. Laurel on the other hand won’t share. So in this small instance, I can see why Faye might lash out with her insecurities. It’s interesting that both women have left their families and homes. Thinking to Heidi’s interest in the mother daughter relationship-Is Laurel more like her Mom or Dad in her behavior? I’m having feelings for her, but she doesn’t seem motivated to make change or to address Faye’s dysfunction or her Dad’s apathy. She reminds me of her Dad in the way she passively watches his life wind down. He is dying-is she even alive? What is going to animate her? Are her father and her actually grieving still for the mother? The mother was clearly the gardener. Is she what gave the home a life force? I do think it’s a lesson about death though. It brings out the worst in people. It’s just raw and ugly. Nobody is the hero because we are all subjugated by it. I’m curious about Welty as a writer. She is good, but is she profound? Will she be able to capture something about divine grace in all of this? I’ve never even heard of her so really enjoyed the recommendation here for this book. Peace.
Would the Judge still be alive if he had taken Fay's advice and let nature be the healer? It seems ironic that this child/woman whom we all want to "punch in the neck" (is that where Southerner's punch instead of at the nose?) is perhaps right about the operation, thought for the wrong motives. The Judge seems to just give up (granted he is physically immobile and blinded) after the surgery. He doesn't even talk to Laurel much. Whatever Fay is (fool or villain) she has a lot of energy and desire and it is directly expressed, not muted.
Does anyone else have the Jerry Springer Show come to mind in the scene with Fay’s family? Just me?
But really, this book is amazing. I do feel some sympathy for Fay despite her best efforts. The writing is wonderfully layered. There is a real feeling of unexplored depths and diverse personalities. The section where she remembers her parents reading to each other was so touching.
I am looking forward to the next section, because, like Laurel I expect, I need some time away from Fay. Every time she shows up, my antipathy towards her crowds out everything else. I feel the same way about her as Heidi felt about the father in As I Lay Dying. It's breath-taking to me how she was trying to drag her old and sick husband out of his hospital bed just because she wanted to be pampered on her birthday. That's when I started loathing her. To be honest though, her self-centeredness struck a chord--there is some of that in my own makeup that I have to be vigilant against, and maybe part of my violent dislike is due to seeing a glimmer of myself in her.
I noticed that so many of the scenes early on end with Fay saying something cringey. It's as if everyone else has decided it's better to just let her words hang awkwardly in the air and ignore them instead of engaging with her. I think that reinforces the insider-outsider/upper-lower class dynamic going on. Fay is resentful of their self-restraint. Her family is open and TMI, and, in her words, not hypocrites. If they didn't want her, they'd tell her to her face. Which makes me wonder if Laurel or anyone from her world will confront Fay, and if so, how Fay will take it?
Fay, aside, any thoughts on the recurrence of time/clocks in the book? There's a comparison to a watch in the section Heidi read out loud, the Judge marking time in his hospital bed, the gull wings looking like the hands of a clock, the actual stopped clock in the house. That's a motif I'll be keeping an eye on.
The character of Faye is an evil stepmother. I was going to give her some mercy, due to her upbringing, but the more I think about it, she is unredeemed. Her dishonesty about her family - shows how she is not to be trusted. She has not risen above her roots, and she never will. She is selfish to the extreme and makes everything about her, despite the fact that she was the newest addition to this community. I just kept thinking how it was a blessing to Laurel that she was grown up and out of the house before her father married her, if the timing would have been different, this may have been a retelling of cinderella.
I enjoyed listening to the episode and I will now be looking for ways authors “use the absurd as a gateway to the profound” (Heidi).
I am really enjoying this book! I do enjoy the southern authors that I’ve read and while I haven’t read every Southern piece of prominent fiction I feel like this book isn’t as heavy as some of the other Southern short stories and novels I have read. I am curious if anyone else agrees. It is about a heavy subject, and I understand that but maybe because we don’t see how Lauren really feels, the overwhelming weight of the situation somehow makes the book feel lighter.
Grappling with absence is what Laurel seems to face in this novel. Who was her father? Was his optimism a positive trait? What is the relationship between optimism and hope? Was his desire to care for Fay and Missouri ultimately helpful or misguided?
It also seems a novel about nostalgia- a longing for home - but I love that the novel keeps bringing us back further into what home was for each character. They all - the Judge, Becky, Fay, Laurel, Missouri - are ultimately separated from their homes. How does this dislocation from home affect these characters? How are we to understand the significance of place in Welty’s imagination? Just loving this read!
I am torn in two about Fay. On the one hand, it has been a long time since I’ve had such a strong desire to physically reach into a book and just shake and/or slap a character-which just goes to show how brilliant a job Welty is doing about making me care. On the other hand, the more I’ve sat with the book the more I pity Fay precisely because she is so awful. She is such a stunted person-emotionally, intellectually, psychologically. To live in a mind so narrow that it is incapable of touching others to give or revive true empathy/sympathy is a ghastly thing. On a completely unrelated note, does anyone know if Welty read To Kill a Mockingbird? Because the story about the Judge facing up to (what I assume is meant to be) the KKK that Major Bullock tells (and Laurel says is false/Major Bullock saying what he wished he’d done) at a jailhouse seemed very similar to what happens with Atticus Finch. We also have the figure of the daughter who loves to read, is an observer, lost her mother first, and has a close relationship with a black housekeeper. All of that just seemed to neat to be entirely coincidental. Or is just that discussing race and race related injustice is an inevitable part of writing a southern novel?
I do not have sympathy for Fay. She is driving me nuts actually; I cannot stand how she is acting.
I’m looking (as usual) for a spiritual transformation in Laurel and its effect on Fay. The pair were physically close at the Hibiscus (I’m assuming someone will talk about the flower theme sometime...) and emotionally close at the house - “nearer in a different way” [last paragraph 2.1]. So, after Laurel’s “three days” at home and with Fay gone (Fay says, “ You just try and be as good as your word.”), I am paying attention to the death-resurrection theme and wondering what will happen.
Your take on the fig tree was interesting. I suppose I took the east path and saw the trees as things rooted and established before Fay. The fig, the Laurel, and the Camellia (?) at Becky’s grave all tie back to her and have deep roots. In my estimation, trees always carry long history: they outlive us all.
Wanda Fay: prefers to be known as her middle name, meaning Fairy, yet who’s family, that she denied existed, won’t let her drop Wanda—which maybe sounds like wander.
Also she’s a stepmother, though younger than her stepchild.
Definitely some kind of fairy tale vibes.
I am torn about whether or not I feel sympathy for Fay. On the one hand, she’s whiny, entitled, and petulant.
However, that is how we are seeing her through Laurel’s eyes.
Few people are at their best when in a hospital situation, while grieving, or at a loved one’s funeral. Fay was the Judge’s wife, after all, if only for a short time, and no one seemed to be really talking to her at all. It seems like she is treated as part of the scenery, not as the wife, and that would upset me!
And then she is clearly the product of her upbringing, and based on her family’s behavior, she has no idea of what is proper at a funeral.
So maybe I do have a little sympathy for her, but I still don’t really like her.
Funny story: for some reason I had it in my head that this book was called "The Optometrist's Daughter," and when I pulled it off the shelf to read it along with the podcast I realized my mistake, but then when the first chapter starts immediately with visiting an eye-doctor, I have to say I had to double-check the title yet again because clearly vision is a central theme here! ;)
I loved this episode and I am really enjoying this book!
I don;t understand why Fay is not indicted for murder for what she was observed doing to a patient who was supposed to be immobilized.
I'm so excited for this discussion!