Last Updated September 5, 2023.
This collection of short stories takes place in rural Mississippi, and the characters’ lives and behavior are loosely modeled on that of characters from a poem by William Butler Yeats, “The Song of Wandering Aengus,” whose last line is “The silver apples of the moon, the golden apples of the sun.” The stories cover about two generations of residents of the town of Morgana, Mississippi. The name “Morgana” is a sort of character itself, being the name given to the half-sister of King Arthur, who was a sorceress. She gives her name to the illusion of far away land seen by sailors while on boats, the fata morgana, and in this way, the name “Morgana” also seems to suggest a town with mystical qualities, which is in keeping with the setting of Yeats’ poem, about a man who sees a fairy woman in a vision and falls in love with her. In addition to themes from Celtic mythology, the stories borrow from Greek myths as well.
One group of prominent characters in these stories is the MacLain family. They give their name to the setting, which is MacLain County, Mississippi, and this suggests the family has long time roots there and must have been important at some point in time. King MacLain is the family patriarch, known for his womanizing and wandering, and is featured in several stories in the collection, including “Shower of Gold,” “Sir Rabbit,” and “The Wanderers.” The name “King” is a hint that explains the parallels to figures from Greek mythology, most notably Zeus, king of the gods, known for his temper and his tendency to cheat on his jealous wife, Hera.
King MacLain’s wife Snowdie MacLain winds up raising their twin sons mostly on her own, due to King’s tendency to go off for long periods of time apart from his family, a bit like the character of Wandering Aengus, who becomes “old from wandering” searching for his elusive fairy lover. The twins, Randall and Eugene MacLain, are similar to their father in that they both also engage in extramarital relationships with women. Eugene is one of the characters who does not remain in Morgana, Mississippi, but moves far away to live in San Francisco.
Katie Rainey is another important character who serves as a kind of narrator at the beginning of the collection, and in this way, her character feels central to much of the action in the other stories, too. She is a dairymaid who sells her products to the townspeople and has a reputation for gossip. She is married to a man named Fate, a name that suggests a mythic quality to their lives. Her presence as a person who provides the other characters with food, who also acts as a sort of hovering motherly type, gives her a sort of magical, earth goddess quality, again in keeping with the mythological underpinnings of these stories. Katie narrates the first story in the collection, “Shower of Gold,” and introduces most of the characters in the book.
Ironically, Katie’s daughter Virgie is herself the subject of a great deal of gossip due to her promiscuity and somewhat wild behavior. Virgie has dreams of travel but is bound to Morgana after her father dies and she has to take care of things for her mother. This somewhat echoes the on-again off again mythic relationship of earth goddess Demeter and her daughter Persephone, who are separated each year when Persephone must journey to the underworld to be with Hades, a sort of father figure who kidnaps her. This story parallels Virgie’s difficulty in trying to leave town, which she cannot do until both her parents die.