I love having Eudora Welty in my life, so The Eye of the Story was a pleasure to dip into over the course of many weeks. Not every essay knocked my socks off — especially the reviews of books/authors I haven’t read (Patrick White, S.J. Perelman, George R. Stewart). But Welty is so thoughtful (in both senses — she’s kind and intelligent) that I found much to appreciate and ponder.
One of the things I enjoyed most is the way Welty sees reading and writing as imaginative activities. Her way of thinking about books and authors is impressionistic and produces insights that allow meaning to blossom rather than nailing it down and analyzing the life out of it. She leaves the mystery intact, while holding it up for us to wonder at. As she writes,
“The mystery lies in the use of language to express human life. In writing, do we try to solve this mystery? No, I think we take hold of the other end of the stick. In very practical ways, we rediscover the mystery.”
Welty’s approach is the antidote to those terrible readers’ guides offered by publishers which have such a dampening, deadening effect. For Welty, fiction is “made by the imagination for the imagination… made by art out of, and in order to show, and to be, some human truth.” And the key to grasping that truth is less by way of analysis than through imagination and feeling.
We see Welty’s approach to reading in her reviews. She gives impressions that readers can take with them into the books of Elizabeth Bowen, Jane Austen, William Faulkner or Ross Macdonald. Her ideas open our imaginative eye to the human truths these writers are exploring.
The Eye of the Story has more than reviews and essays on writing. Welty’s recollections of her childhood and hometown of Jackson, Mississippi are delightful. I worried they’d be like the ramblings of an aged aunt, but the anecdotes Welty tells — of Ida M’Toy, the eccentric, queenly midwife-turned-used-clothing-vendor, or of walking home from the little store via a storm sewer, clutching a loaf of bread her mother had sent her to buy — give the reader another cherished opportunity to see the world from Welty’s intelligent, generous point of view.