The Ponder Heart - Eudora Welty
Edna Earle Ponder, the narrator of this story, runs the Beulah Hotel, a surprising career for someone as xenophobic as she is. But then, she didn’t choose the hotel; her Uncle Daniel gave it to her. Uncle Daniel has two simple goals in his head: to be the center of attention, and to get people to like him, which he tries to accomplish by giving things away. Edna Earle, for her part, lives by the principles that everyone and everything has a place established by tradition and inheritance, that you can and should be able to predict their behavior that way, and that you can’t trust people who neither know nor respect your traditions. Her mission in life (in spite of stray thoughts of getting married herself) is to protect and indulge Uncle Daniel.

The plot makes comic hay out of the complications that this mission is bound to bring with it, especially when Uncle Daniel takes a mind to marry. Naturally, Edna Earle often has to deal with people who just don’t behave like she thinks they ought to. In spite of comedy, the novel ends on a surprisingly down note. Edna Earle's hopes of marriage are squashed. The Ponder family is dwindling away, in both offspring and influence, and so is the town of Clay, now that a new highway has strangers simply shooting through it at high speed. And Uncle Daniel’s giving habits finally wound up "coming between" him and other people rather than making friends, leaving him lonely.

Readers may not be sorry to see the Ponder way of life go, after all; but the ambiguously dark implications here favorably set Eudora Welty apart from legions of "southern cozy" writers that she was a major inspiration for (who I’ve complained about in reviews of Fanny Flagg, for example).