The Wide Net by Eudora Welty, 1942
The magic trick:
Using a magic-realism encounter with the King of the Snakes in the middle of the story to expand the reader’s understanding and interpretation of the themes of love and redemption
“The Wide Net” feels like it easily could have been a novel. There are so many characters here, so many ideas, so many things going on.
The magic trick is an easy one to identity but nearly impossible to pull off as a writer. This is where Welty takes the local color and small-town comedy of her first collection, A Curtain Of Green, and adds her own brand of magic realism. Her later story, “No Place For You, My Love,” features an even more mature form of foggy reality, but it lacks the comedy that still shines through in “The Wide Net.” This story really has it all.
When William Wallace disappears under the lake water for what seems like too long a time, all bets are off. The reader no longer can hold the story to the standards of reality we came in expecting. Then we get this bizarre appearance by something called the King of the Snakes? Are you kidding? It’s remarkable, and then of course the story resumes a sense of normalcy. It wouldn’t be magic realism without the realism, after all. And that’s quite a trick on Welty’s part.
“The King of the Snakes!” cried all the Malones at once, in high tenor voices and leaning together.
“The King of the Snakes,” intoned old Doc in his profound bass.
“He looked you in the eye.”
William Wallace stared back at the King of the Snakes with all his might.
It was Brucie that darted forward, dangling his little thread with the pin tied to it, going toward the water.
“That’s the King of the Snakes!” cried Grady, who always looked after him.
Then the snake went down.
The little boy stopped with one leg in the air, spun around on the other, and sank to the ground.
“Git up,” Grady whispered. “It was just the King of the Snakes. He went of whistling. Git up. It wasn’t a thing but the King of the Snakes.”
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.