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The Optimist's Daughter

The Optimist's Daughter
Eudora Welty
180 pages

First sentence: A nurse held the door open for them.

Reflections: 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.  ( )

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
41 / 50


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 11th, 2007 11:42 am (UTC)
This sounds fascinating - a Southern literary work that I haven't read yet. Great review!

I have been in a reading rut. I started my Early Reviewer book (Tipperary), and I got about 150 pages in and felt....icky. I don't know - I can't describe. I guess I don't like the book, but I felt guilty putting it aside. I realized by Friday that this was stupid and put Tipperary aside to start Blindness by Jose Saramago.

I feel a little guilty for squandering five good reading days, trying to psych myself for a book that I didn't even crack open. I hope to get back to it in a couple of weeks.
Aug. 11th, 2007 02:29 pm (UTC)
I don't think you have to finish it to write a review ... why punish yourself? Your review could be what you didn't like about it, and why.

For what it's worth, I just started my Early Reviewer book (Identical Strangers) and have very mixed feelings about it so far. The writing isn't great ...
Aug. 12th, 2007 05:45 pm (UTC)
I'm so glad you enjoyed this book. Welty, wants the reader to become Laurel. She wants the reader to feel the hatred towards Fay, she wants the reader to realize things change when they move away from home, she wants the reader to choose not to bop Fay on the head with the bread board. She wants the reader to feel wrong and to see Fay's not so bad in the end. Fay's just ignorant and looking out for her future. Did you feel that way? maggiereads ;)
Aug. 14th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC)
I love the quotes that you picked out!

Aug. 20th, 2007 07:34 pm (UTC)
Hi! First-time visitor here -- I found you through the Thoughtful Blogger thingy actually. :) Great review, I thought The Optimist's Daughter was fantastic. If you can find a copy I'd recommend One Writer's Beginnings as well... it's a lovely little memoir, and really influenced me growing up. Anyway, I've bookmarked this site & will definitely be back to read more.

-Kristen (http://criticallass.blogspot.com)
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )