My rating: 5 of 5 stars
The Wide Net is Welty’s second collection of stories. I’ve read her memoir One Writer’s Beginnings, her Pulitzer prize winning Optimist’s Daughter, and a few of her more well-known stories, but this was my first experience reading one of her full short story collections. My favorite story in this collection was the title story, in which a simple country man gathers up a rag tag team of other country guys to go looking for his missing pregnant wife. It’s actually quite a funny story with characters that felt real enough to touch. The river, the animals, and trees are still fresh in my mind. Doc, the owner of the “wide net” has this little jewel of monologue:
“‘Any day now the change will come. It’s going to turn from hot to cold, and we can kill the hog that’s ripe and have fresh meat to eat. Come one of these nights and we can wander down here and tree a nice possum. Old Jack Frost will be pinching things up. Old Mr. Winter will be standing in the door. Hickory tree there will be yellow. Sweet-gum red, hickory yellow, dogwood red, sycamore yellow.’ He went along rapping the tree trunks with his knuckle. ‘Magnolia and live-oak never die. Remember that. Persimmons will all get fit to eat, and the nuts will be dropping like rain all through the woods here. And run, little quail run, for we’ll be after you too” (48).
Can you get more Mississippi than that? Some of these stories I couldn’t have understood without the benefit of Google. For example, “First Love” is the author’s imagining story of Aaron Burr’s clandestine meetings and subsequent capture and trial for treason near Natchez, Mississippi. “Asphodel” is heavy with Greek mythology, and “A Still Moment,” is a chance meeting between John James Audubon, a preacher, and a bandit. Still some of these stories, I didn’t completely grasp. They were dreamlike and just generally mystifying, full of vague signifiers, and possible allusions to sex and sexuality? I read these more for the the feeling that they invoked rather than trying to fully grasp the literal significance.
Welty’s descriptions of nature are astounding, eerie, mystical. “Late at night the whole sky was lunar, like the surface of the moon brought as close as a cheek” (19). These are the kinds of unearthly images that will stay with me from this collection.