Book Review – The Ponder Heart

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by Mary McConville

 

The late Eudora Welty (13.4.1909 – 23.7.2001) was very good at writing stories about and by chatty idiots. One such character, Edna Earle Ponder, narrates the Ponder Heart.

 

In another of Ms Welty’s stories “The Wide Net” a character comments that “She’s a lot smarter than her cousins in Beulah,” said Virgil.

 

And especially Edna Earle that never did get to be what you could call a heavy thinker.

 

Edna Earle could sit and ponder all day on how the little tail on the C got through the L in a Coca Cola sign. As Edna Earle herself said, “It always takes a lot out of me, being smart”.

 

Edna Earle tells a meandering tale of the Ponder family, in particular Grandpa Ponder and her Uncle Daniel.

 

Edna Earle and Uncle Daniel may be compared to molasses – slow and sweet.

 

The implications are that Edna Earle is an inbred; the result of too many Deep South cousin marriages and the fact that Uncle Daniel has Down Syndrome.

 

He was born very late in his parent’s life.

 

The slow life in small town Beulah wends its way to a farcical climax in a courtroom, where Uncle Daniel is being tried for the death of his wife, Bonnie Dee Peacock.

 

Ms Welty has a curious style that could be termed Southern Rococo – florid, exaggerated and discursive.

 

The Deep South throws up some interesting styles.

 

We have the Southern Gothic of William Faulkner, the sexual hysteria of Tennessee Williams and the acerbic comments on Southern Belles of Florence James.

 

It takes a lot of effort to read Ms Welty’s work, especially if you’re trying to follow the plot.

 

I’ve often wondered if any straightforward, ‘blokey’ type have read and enjoyed Ms Welty’s work.

 

I enjoy it, but sometimes even I feel like throwing the book at the wall in exasperation.

 

Robert Tower, when reviewing Ms Welty’s works in The New York Review of Books, commented that her work was “too personal, too familial”.

 

For all this, The Ponder Heart is one of Ms Welty’s more comprehensible works, with a plot that can be followed, more or less.

 

Edna Earle runs the family hotel and comments on the goings-on in her local town, especially that of her own family – her Grandpa Ponder and her Uncle Daniel.

 

Grandpa is irritable but loving with his incurably generous son, Daniel.

 

A stint in a mental asylum for Daniel makes for no change in his habits, especially after Grandpa (Mr Ponder) is forcibly confined instead of Uncle Daniel (Mr Ponder) after returning to the asylum from a day trip.

Eventually Grandpa Ponder dies, and Uncle Daniel marries, separates and tries to reconcile with his wife, who dies of a heart attack during a thunderstorm.

 

Her hillbilly family charges him with murder, leading to a farcical trial on a hot courtroom.

 

This book has recently been reprinted and is now for sale at Readings bookshop in Acland St.

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