This story of a young woman's confrontation with death and her past is a poetic study of human relations.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
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This started as a comedy of Old South manners but by the second half it had changed into something entirely different. It plunges the depths of how we become who we are. I would have liked it even more if the character that we were plunging into was more like myself, but I have to acknowledge innumerable numinous interpretations that is hallmark of all great literature. For a book were nothing really happens my book club went ape shit.more
Extremely realistic and depressing. Bird trapped in the house is a bit too obviously symbolic. More admirable than likable. Fay is a common sight in the real world, at least in the south, but likely everywhere I'm sure.more
Won the 1973 Pulizer Prize. It's a quick read about a 40ish woman returning to the south where her father is dying. There's a young step-mother to contend with and all of the friends of childhood to bring back memories and lead her to better understanding herself.more
Memory lived not in initial possession but in the freed hands, pardoned and freed, and in the heart that can empty but fill again, in the patterns restored by dreams. Eudora Welty’s Pulitzer Prize winning book was a little disappointing to me. I had been looking forward to reading her work for awhile, and I thought this book would be perfect for the Southern Reading Challenge and, of course, the Pulitzer Project. While it does convey a strong sense of the South, I didn’t like Welty’s writing style at all. The first 2/3 of the book is almost like a play in that it is about 85-90% dialogue. It was extremely difficult to read. The last 1/3 has very little dialogue and was definitely the best part of the book. In this last section, we are able to make sense (a little) of Laurel’s relationship with her parents and her past. Although I’m glad I read this book for its Southern feel and because I can check off another Pulitzer, I can’t really recommend it unless you are reading it for the same goals. 1972, 180 pp.more
Southern story broken into four distinct sections.Part I - Laurel McKelva Hand comes from Chicago to care for her elderly father after eye surgery. Judge McKelva subsequently dies and Laurel is left to deal with her young, silly stepmother, Fay. Part I sets the tone for Laurel and Fay's strained relationship.Part II - Laurel and Fay bring Judge McKelva home for the wake and funeral where Laurel is heartily welcomed and supported by her friends and community. Fay's family comes from Texas and brings out the worst in Fay. Part II illustrates southern charm and manners.Part III - Laurel has to come to terms with her father's new, young wife. As silly as she is, Laurel's father adored her. Laurel also has to come to terms with the death of her mother ten years prior.Part IV is all about Laurel's introspective growth and acceptance of the future. The burning of her mother's letters and the letting go of the breadboard are very significant.more
A beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful surprise, this little book is reminiscent of Mark Twain in voice and subject, though lighter in tone--a touch of Flannery O'Connor, minus the violence. The humor here, combined with the emotion, make for a surprisingly touching book, and one which might be read on a quiet day for a single afternoon's vacation. It is a quick book, but not one to be forgotten or left aside in the past. Highly recommended.more
I really enjoy Southern fiction, which for me is a blend of evocative scenery, nostalgic small town communities and universal emotions. This is my first taste of Eudora Welty's writing, but 'The Optimist's Daughter' is the perfect introduction - concise, lyrical and poignant. Laurel Hand returns to her home town of Mount Salus, Mississippi, to be with her remarried father when he goes into hospital for an operation. She has to deal with her common stepmother, who has escaped her own sprawling family to lay claim to Laurel's family home, as well as her old friends and neighbours, and the memories and guilt of her mother's death. Recently widowed herself, Laurel has to break free of the past and decide to live for herself. Not a lot happens in terms of plot, but the depth of history and feeling is beautifully described, like Laurel's memory of hearing her parents read aloud to each other: 'She cared for her own books, but she cared more for theirs, which meant their voices. ... She was sent to sleep under a velvety cloak of words, richly patterned and stitched with gold, straight out of a fairy tale, while they went reading on into her dreams'. The autobiographical basis for this neat tale adds heartfelt compassion to a metaphor of grief and memory, and I will definitely be reading more by the author.more
I was incredibly excited to read something by an author who is supposed to be fantastic. Imagine my surprise to discover that the plot was underdeveloped and unrealistic. Welty attempts to expose the raw feelings which people experience when they lose a loved one, but every time she began to expound upon this, she veered away. Far too understated in my opinion.more
The book hinges on the death of Judge. McKelva, Laurel's father, but it's really about the living - his survivors, Laurel and his second wife, Fay. Becky, Laurel's mother and dead for 10 years or more also plays a role. To me, the struggle is between the past and present - living, sensuality, pleasure vs. honoring the dead. Fay is totally out of the social milieu of the McKelva's - she is emotional, sensual and in the eyes of polite Mississippi society, crude. But, it seems that Judge McKelva loved her - they acted like newlyweds and he embrace her vitality much to the chagrin of his daughter and neighbors. She didn't really care whether or not they accepted her. His death immediately followed Fay's grabbing him in the hospital - was she trying to shake him into life or death. Laurel is a widow and mourns all those who went before her, her husband, mother and now father. She has not remarried and seems to live a quiet reserved life. Though provoking and well done.more
The Optimist's Daughter is a very quick, but very good book by Eudora Welty. What I like so much about her is that she can say a lot without hitting you over the head with it.It's the story of Laurel McKelva returning to her childhood home for her father Judge McKelva's eye operation and the collision course that results when she has to put up with her self involved, slightly younger than herself stepmother, Fay. This is a great book in the tradition of other Southern novels, without a great deal of character development.more
I listened to this in the car and Miss Welty, reading her own work, was a wonderful travelling companion. I felt like she was sitting right beside me telling me the goings-on in Mount Salus with her wonderful Lou Holtz-like lisp and clicking teeth. I was always ready to say, "And then what happened?" However, this book goes far beyond the telling of a good story. I see in it the struggle between the common and the elite, the suffocating closeness of small town life, and the stranglehold that grief can have. While at times I did feel that it drew a bit too much on Southern stereotypes, the rich dialoge is so enhanced by Miss Welty's descriptions, giving wonderful support to each scene. There were times when I just said, "Wow - what a great phrase" or simply found myself rewinding sections just to luxuriate in her reading. I will be adding a paper copy of this to my library just so I can thumb through it from time to time and visit with a good friend. A very special read.more
This is a very straightforward book. When Laurel's father dies, she must deal not only with her own grief but that of her friends and neighbors (her father was a well-loved judge in their small town). On top of that, she also has to deal with the histrionics of her stepmother, a woman younger than herself, who does not react in a way that Laurel finds seemly.The night after the funeral, Laurel finds herself alone in her childhood home. Going through things from her past, she reminisces about her parents, and is able to come to terms with aspects of their relationship and her mother's final illness.Welty writes her scenes sparingly, allowing characters to speak for themselves. The disparity between the actions of Laurel's stepmother's family and those of the locals is told through dialogue, rather than description, to great effect. One can't help but cringe on Laurel's behalf for what she has to go through before she is free to mourn her father.more
It is easy to see why The Optimist's Daughter occupies such high standing in the canon of Southern fiction. With sparse and at times beautiful prose, Eudora Welty manages to commuicate much in a very slim volume. However, this economical style of storytelling reduces some of the characters - particularly the unbearably shrill Fay - to a cartoonish level. A good but not great American novel.more
This is a very tightly written story (almost a novella) about a daughter's coping with the death of her father. The plot involves an obnoxious second wife. There is plent of good dialog and evocative writing about the South.more
The Optimist's Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973, and is a short but stunning work. Set primarily in Mississippi, it's the story of Laurel McKelva Hand, currently living in Chicago, visiting the South where her father is failing. Judge McKelva was a pillar of his community. After the death of his first wife (Laurel's mother), he remarried a woman younger than Laurel herself. Welty, through small but significant descriptions of second wife Fay, makes the reader despise her in the first few pages. She is introduced on page 1 when Fay, Laurel, and the Judge are meeting with a doctor about the Judge's condition: "Fay, small and pale in her dress with the gold buttons, was tapping her sandaled foot." And two pages later, as the Judge is describing his medical problem: "Fay laughed -- a single, high note, as derisive as a jay's." Laurel and Fay are forced together as the Judge's condition deteriorates, and he subsequently passes away. Fay is tremendously put out by his death, since it happens on her birthday. After the funeral she leaves town to be with her family. Laurel remains to sort through some of her father's effects and, since Fay has inherited the house, to remove memories of her mother, which she knows Fay will not respect. Welty's writing is beautiful throughout, evoking a strong "sense of place". Here are just a few examples: "The ancient porter was already rolling his iron-wheeled wagon to meet the baggage car, before the train halted. All six of Laurel's bridesmaids, as they still called themselves, were waiting on the station platform." "The procession passed between ironwork gates whose kneeling angles and looping vines shone black as licorice." "The gooseneck lamp threw its dimmed beam on the secretary's warm brown doors. It had been made of the cherry trees on the McKelva place a long time ago; on the lid, the numerals 1817 had been set into a not quite perfect oval of different wood, something smooth and yellow as a scrap of satin." I was fully immersed in this book; wrapped in a blanket of beautiful prose. I will likely read more of Welty's work.more
My first Eudora Welty novel Interesting but not comfortable. In this novel, she seems to imply constantly, meaning one has to work to understand. I've worked to understand plenty in other books (I love Faulkner, and yes, have finished Ulysses.) But here I work and still am unsettled. Also, not exactly a pleasant story! Some good characterizations and character contrasts.more
Miss Welty originally suggested “Poor Eyes” as the title. Although, I like the optimist idea, I think "poor eyes" is more fitting and a proper tell-tale title. By the end of the story it’s obvious all the characters are having or have had vision troubles.more
"Memory lived not in initial possession but in the freed hands, pardoned and freed, and in the heart that can empty but fill again, in the patterns restored by dreams."With her typical economy, Welty weaves the complex story of a woman's coming to terms with the deaths of her husband, mother, and father and the secrets of her family's past. I first encountered this poignant character study as an undergrad and missed so much of its beauty and subtlety. Reading it a second time has truly made me homesick.more
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