February 5, 2017

Meanwhile there are Letters:
The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and Ross MacDonald
Edited by Suzanne Marrs and Tom Nolan

The Slow, Easy Feeling – I fell in love with each of these writers before I knew they themselves loved one another. Ross MacDonald’s detective novels (especially “The Moving Target,” “The Goodbye Look” and “The Blue Hammer”) are not merely entertaining; they catapult genre-fiction into the realm of literature. Eudora Welty’s stories (most notably, for me, “Where Is the Voice Coming From,” “Powerhouse” and the classic “Why I Live at the P.O.”) expertly demonstrate what Welty means when she emphasizes the power of feeling in literature. These and her other stories also exemplify that – as she states in her excellent, “One Writer’s Beginnings” – “human life is fiction’s only theme.”

Welty and MacDonald lived far apart, with Welty in Jackson, Mississippi, and MacDonald in Santa Barbara, California. But they forged an intimate communion through their correspondence. They swapped musings about literary friends and colleagues, writing and not writing, joys and sorrows with family and friends, bird-watching and dog-walking and the Pacific Ocean, and a mutual love of the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. (Interesting: Welty, who ultimately would publish two impressive collections of photographs never mentioned photography in a dozen years’ worth of letters to her beloved friend, MacDonald.) In the end, they also wrote about a tragedy unfolding in real time: MacDonald’s heartbreaking mental decline, which left me crying and aching. When was the last time a collection of letters made you cry? Made you ache?

I took my time reading this exhaustive collection compiled by Welty’s and MacDonald’s biographers for two reasons: first, because there is no greater joy than “slow reading,” especially when you find a book so deliciously rich in language and true emotion that you automatically slow down to relish every word; and, second, because I found this book when I needed it the most – at a time when U.S. public discourse is coarse, crass and caustic, these gentle letters between two humane, humble and truly great people illuminate the power of intelligence, easy friendship, and grace.


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