Delta Wedding by Eudora Welty offers little by way of a plot or character development. Instead what it does is conjure up an atmosphere of the hustle and bustle of a large extended family preparing for a daughter’s wedding in the Mississippi Delta in 1923.
Dabney Fairchild is getting married. The novel opens with the perspective of Dabney’s young cousin, nine-year-old Laura McRaven who travels by train to attend the wedding. Laura’s recently deceased mother was a member of the Fairchild clan. Laura is thrust in the midst of the chaotic whirlwind of an extended family of aunts and great aunts, uncles, and cousins. This is a house charged with an electrical current of frenzied activity in preparation for the wedding. It is a house that is seldom quiet. In every corner, boisterous conversations are taking place where people frequently talk at each other instead of to each other.
Welty’s portrayal of a large, multi-generational extended family is immersive. The cast of characters is extensive and confusing: Laura’s Aunt Ellen and Uncle Battle and their brood of eight rambunctious children with another on the way; Dabney, the bride-to-be and their second child, a self-absorbed, spoilt seventeen-year-old who lives in a romantic whirl of a fantasy of her own making; the elderly, interfering aunts, critical of outsiders since no one seems to be good enough to marry a Fairchild; the uncles, all of whom defer to the women in their lives. This elaborate structure is supported in the fields and in the house by a number of African American servants who appear intermittently to perform the bidding of one Fairchild or another.
To add to the confusion, Welty delivers snatches of simultaneous conversations; a dialogue that is at cross-purposes or spoken in a code to which few are privy; interruptions; announcements; and sentences that begin in the middle of a thought and simply trail off into the distance. Children tumble in and out of a conversation just as they tumble in and out of a room. Threaded throughout this crescendo of noise is Welty’s very detailed description of the sights, sounds, and smells of the Delta. Welty is not shy of piling on minute details with labyrinthine sentences that vividly evoke place.
If you prefer novels with a strong plot and fully developed characters, this may not be for you. But if you want to experience a snapshot of a wealthy plantation family in the Mississippi Delta of the 1920s; a family depicted in all its raw energy, shallowness, smugness, privilege; a family living in an exclusive bubble while oblivious to the concerns of outsiders, you may enjoy this.