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It was good to be strong enough for everything, even if all you made melted and changed and slipped under your hands, so that by the time you finished you almost forgot what you were working for.
Be alert that a spoiler is included in this post, although, even if a reader knows what happens, how it happens and how it’s written are reasons well worth reading this story, anyway.
Sad, powerful, scary, beautiful – all could be words to describe Katherine Anne Porter’s short story “The Jilting of Granny Weatherall”. Since it’s the end of the year, I’ve already been thinking of my favorite stories of 2014. This story will now be included in that group and Porter will now be included in favorite new-to-me authors.
Granny Weatherall is eighty years old and on her death bed. Her family is around her as well as a priest. Porter’s ability to capture Granny’s life flashing before her eyes is one of the breathtaking aspects of the story. One minute she is aware of her surroundings and the next minute she is in her younger days. She also crosses back and forth between denial and acceptance of her situation. The events of her life include being left at the altar sixty years prior. Ultimately, she married someone else and had a family with him; however, the fact that the “jilting” should be so fresh in her mind decades later is nothing short of gut-wrenching.
Porter spends a significant amount of the story portraying Granny’s strength. I’m not one to usually put too much thought into how an author names a character; however, Granny seems to have “weathered” a lot in her life. It’s as though the grief from being stood up molded itself into a strength that stayed with her -a strength that could be described as admirable. Maybe a strength that could be considered character and personality. At the same time, Porter’s story heartbreakingly points out that, in spite of the strength, the grief never ceases to be grief.
I found some similarities in Porter’s story to Flannery O’Connor’s stories – Catholicism and the South are prominent even if in the background. The priest at Granny’s bedside, while a minor character, is both a bother and a comfort to her. Granny seems to have molded her Catholicism into something of her own:
She had her secret comfortable understanding with a few favorite saints who cleared a straight road to God for her.
One final point: I’ve alway wondered how an author might realistically write about an actual death using first person narrative of the person who dies. Now, I know.
I have one story on my DMI 2015 list, but I might need to do some ad hoc reading of Porter’s stories. From the little research I’ve done, she is known mostly for writing in the short story format. This is my final story for my Deal Me In 2014 project. My Deal Me In 2014 list can be seen here. DMI is sponsored by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.
It’s been a great year in stories!