Losing Battles is not an easy novel to read, not because it is philosophically demanding or because it has a complex plot, but rather because of its style (it is written almost entirely in dialogue) and because of the large number of characters (twenty-eight listed in the cast at the front of the book) who populate it and who join in the talk that makes it up. It is precisely the talk and tale-telling of the rural family, however, that constitute the novel’s essence, as it attempts to capture the spirit of a tight-knit oral culture. The plot is so simple as to be nonexistent, even though this, unlike many of Eudora Welty’s earlier works, is a long novel of more than four hundred pages. The action takes place on the day of Granny Vaughn’s ninetieth birthday—the occasion for a reunion of the family that includes the Renfros and the Beechams—and the following day, which is the day of the funeral of the old schoolteacher of the rural area, Miss Julia Mortimer. Indeed, although Miss Julia does not figure in the novel in actuality, her legend and her influence dominate the last half of the book, much as the clan of Granny Vaughn dominates the first half.
The central event which unites these two strands is the return of Jack Renfro, who has just been released from prison; Jack, the oldest son of Beulah Renfro, one of Granny’s grandchildren, is the central hope of the family—an innocent but brave and loving young man who has chosen to stay with the family instead of making his fortune elsewhere. Jack has been in prison because of a fight he had with Curly Stovall, the town storekeeper, over Granny’s gold ring, which Curly took in payment for a family debt. After Jack fights Curly and carries off the safe in which the ring is kept (which is lost on...
(The entire section is 726 words.)