“Petrified Man” by Eudora Welty

My book club met today to discuss Losing Battles by Eudora Welty as well as the future of the book club. The future looks good, the book not so good. I made it through the first part of the novel but no further than page 97. I am a big fan of Ms. Welty’s short stories but not so much her novels. There are many writers who excell at short stories but just don’t quite seem to come together for a novel. Unfortunately, if you don’t write novels you’re considered to be a minor writer, with a few exceptions like Edgar Allen Poe.

This is too bad, because there are so many terrific short stories and short story writers out there. No one considers Robert Frost to be a minor poet because he never wrote an epic. Why should short story writers suffer a diminished reputation?

So I’m going to read and review one short story each Sunday this summer. Since the stories are short, I’ve decided to keep the reviews short, too. Limit, two paragraphs each. If I writing them, I may keep the short story reviews going as a regular feature. First up, Petrified Man by Eudora Welty. (You can find the full text of the story here.)

“Reach in my purse and git me a cigarette without no powder in it if you kin, Mrs. Fletcher, honey,” said Leota to her ten o’clock shampoo-and-set customer. “I don’t like no perfumed cigarettes.”

Petrified Man is a very funny story about the women who patronize and work at a small town beauty parlor during the 1930’s. Leota, the main character, works at the beauty parlor and has been doubly blessed with the gift of gab. Her client, Mrs. Fletcher, is at turns intrigued, horrified, fascinated and insulted by the stories Leota tells. Leota has two main interests, the travelling freak show that has taken up residence in the vacent store front next door and her new boarder Mrs. Pike. She cannot stop talking about either.

The dialogue is what makes a Eudora Welty story, and there is little else in Petrified Man. It’s through their dialogue that Ms. Welty develops her characters revealing their depth and their shallowness both. There are plenty of laughs in Petrified Man, but there is an awful lot going on under the surface, too. What struck me most was how ambivelant the young women are towards childbirth and children. Mrs. Fletcher is pregant but has told no one, so she is outraged that Mrs. Pike, whom she has never met, recognized her pregnancy from across the street and told Leota. Leota tells her that she’ll have to keep the baby now, which suggests not keeping it was clearly an option, and that she should be sure to see the conjoined twins in a jar that they have at the freakshow next door. Leota babysits Mrs. Pike’s young son at the beauty parlor even after her relationship with Mrs. Pike sours. In the end, he is caught stealing peanuts from Leota’s purse and all of the women take turns spanking him, even Mrs. Fletcher who is doing it to get practice for after her child has arrived.

Just what is all that about?

Petrified Man is available from iTunes along with two other short stories all read by the author. I went ahead and bought it to play for the book club. It makes for very funny listening.


I first ran this post on my old blog Ready When You Are, C.B.  I’ve been slowly migrating my old posts over to this new blog.  If you’re looking for a fun read, or a wonderful listen, you can’t go wrong with Eudora Welty and her delightfully twisted sense of humor.