A Memory by Eudora Welty, 1937
The magic trick:
Pairing two memories – one of childhood love and one of a family playing rather stupidly at the lake – in order to make a larger comment about growing up
It would be so easy to write this as a straight love story. We have seen it so many other times: the memoir of unrequited childhood love. And Welty does that well here. Her protagonist is relishing the wondrous agony of first love right on down to the most minute and all-too-recognizable detail.
Which would make for a perfectly fine story.
But that’s not it.
Welty pairs the memory of first love with a memory of the same girl lying down near the lake observing a local family having what I guess we could call a day at the beach. It’s an ugly affair – virtually the exact antithesis of the beauty she is able to conjure in her mind when she thinks about her newfound love.
So now the story’s theme isn’t about the perils and joys of childhood love. It’s about the harsh contrast between the world in our imagination and the reality around us. A very interesting pairing of memories. And that’s quite a trick on Welty’s part.
There had been no words spoken among these people, but I began to comprehend a progression, a circle of answers, which they were flinging toward one another in their own way, in the confusion of vulgarity and hatred which twined among them all like a wreath of steam rising from the wet sand. I saw the man lift his hand filled with crumbling sand, shaking it as the woman laughed, and pour it down inside her bathing suit between her bulbous descending breasts. There it hung, brown and shapeless, making them all laugh.
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