Eudora Welty gives a textbook lesson in characterization in
The Ponder Heart, a short,
first-person novel in which a hotelkeeper in Mississippi lovingly
sketches her charming, addled, and ungovernable uncle.
Uncle Daniel and Edna Earle, his niece, are the last members of the prominent Ponder family of Clay County, Mississippi. Edna Earle operates the family’s Beulah Hotel, which Uncle Daniel gave to her. Dim-witted, kind-hearted Uncle Daniel likes nothing more than to to give things away to make people happy. When Daniel’s father, Edna Earle’s grandfather, was alive, he put Daniel on a $3 a month allowance (this was the 1950s) to keep him from giving his fortune away.
The Ponder Heart is a light, fun read, even when Daniel stands trial for murdering his wife. Without giving the verdict away, suffice it to say the courtroom scenes are as humorous as anything in the book.
Uncle Daniel is a wonderful character, and so are the wry Edna Earle; Bonnie Lee, Daniel’s unfortunate wife, and her redneck family; and myriad other eccentrics. The story drips with midcentury Southern atmosphere, but readers should be warned that they might be offended by Welty’s treatment of black servants.
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