If Chekhov is guarded by the ossified ‘Lady with Lapdog’, Welty has been obscured behind two stories. One, like so much of Faulkner’s short fiction, is as much Saturday Evening Post as Welty: the folksy-as-hell tour de force ‘Why I Live at the P.O.’.
Welty wrote the other story, ‘Where is the Voice Coming From?’ late in the day and the story is justly famous as a strange footnote to history (the murder of Medgar Evers by Byron de la Beckwith), but has also become, or at least it seems so to this Mississippian, a kind of cover for not really talking about Welty’s racism—not in the way we’ve engaged with Faulkner’s and begun to talk about O’Connor’s.
Welty’s racism is all the more important and problematic, because it is so casual, and, comparatively, perniciously moderate, even as it is shot through some of the most beautiful short stories ever written. The Golden Apples is a collection of excruciating beauty, and treats all of the world as strange and terrible and inexorable and small.
In particular, ‘June Recital’ reaches its long arm round several dozen people and gathers them into a dance they’re unaware of, we’re unaware of, something that ‘The Dead’ alone of Joyce’s stories manages, but in a true third person that decenters any possible Gabriels and leaves the story hovering in collective forgetting, the real truth of the back-there-where-the-mule-died of Southern literature is that the fabric of what is known by everyone about everyone is always slipping out of memory. The collective memory is an act of collective amnesia. I’d like to say that the racism in this and other of the stories is a deliberate examination, but it isn’t.
Peter Orner once said that Welty was so clearly the greatest American short story writer that the question wasn’t even interesting to him. Without quite agreeing to that, exactly, I have never found a writer that allowed me to disagree.
In The Golden Apples, Harcourt Brace and Company, 1949