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The Optimist's Daughter (1972)

by Eudora Welty

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2,191854,974 (3.52)241
Laurel Hand, long absent from the South, comes from Chicago to New Orleans, where her father dies after surgery. With Fay, the stupid new young wife of her father, Laurel returns to her former Mississippi home and stays a few days after the funeral for reunions with old friends. In a night alone in the house she grew up in, she confronts elements of the past and comes to a better understanding of it and of herself and her parents.… (more)

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English (76)  Spanish (5)  Catalan (1)  German (1)  All languages (83)
Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
It was okay. ( )
  rhowens | Nov 26, 2019 |
This novel is about two women and the father of one of them.
The father is also the husband of the other woman even though the two women are the same age.
The father dies.
The two women have very different personalities. One is nice and has deep thoughts and plans things out. The other is selfish, intolerant and not capable of thinking things through, just acts on impulse.

So the reader roots for the nice woman. But there are no positive events or interactions in this story. The nice woman is left with nothing, not even the wooden bowl she has memories of as a child. The selfish woman claims everything, even the nice woman's fathers letters, and her deceased mother's letters as well. The book ends with the selfish woman having everything and no sadness of her husband's passing, while the nice woman is sad her father has died and is left with nothing at all. She leaves town and returns to her job n another far-away the city. Her parents are dead. Her husband is dead. She was married only a short while and so had no children. She effectively has no living relatives and inherited nothing. She walks out of the book with nothing but her fading memories.
This is more grim than holocaust literature. At least most holocaust vistims had each other andleft surviving relativs and hoped for beter times prior to death. In this book, ther eis no hope anywhere. There is also no message either, except perhaps that memories are what can be kept despite the rigors of life. However, with no one to pass the memories on to, even those are of little value.

I'm 70 years old. I know all about memories, birth,and death. My mother and father are dead. My wife is dead. I've personally watched the birth of several of my grand kids. I know about birth death, and memories.

This is the most grim book I have read in over a decade. I do not recommend it for anyone of any age.. ( )
  billsearth | Nov 13, 2019 |
A rather grim little slice of life as Laurel has traveled from her home in Chicago and put her work on hold to be with her father when he goes south to New Orleans to consult about an eye problem with a surgeon who unsuccessfully treated his first wife. The second wife, Fay, has got to be one of the all time achievements in shallow, selfish, ill will ever to take from on the page. Most of the book is Laurel dealing with her father's funeral and revealing its effects on her, complicating the effects of her mother's slow death. ( )
  quondame | Oct 21, 2019 |
I listened to the audiobook version read by the author: a lovely reading of a deeply tragic moment.

I'm fairly shocked that this isn't taught more frequently. I think the amazing quality of this is the ripples of similarity in material to others. I kept thinking of the legacy of Eudora (the phrase "Eudora's daughters" stayed with me throughout this). ( )
  slmr4242 | Oct 16, 2019 |
Pulitzer prize winning novel about hardship of loss in a southern family ( )
  atufft | Jul 4, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 76 (next | show all)
The best book Eudora Welty has ever written, "The Optimist's Daughter" is a long goodbye in a very short space not only to the dead but to delusion and to sentiment as well.
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Poignant, wise, and economical, The Optimist's Daughter was written for the New Yorker in 1969 and then revised and extended to its present form in 1972, when it won the Pulitzer Prize.
A nurse held the door open for them.
When Laurel was a child, in this room and in this bed where she lay now, she closed her eyes like this and the rhythmic, nighttime sound of the two beloved reading voices came rising in turn up the stairs every night to reach her. She could hardly fall asleep, she tried to keep awake, for pleasure. She cared for her own books, but she cared more for theirs, which meant their voices. In the lateness of the night, their two voices reading to each other where she could hear them, never letting a silence divide or interrupt them, combined into one unceasing voice and wrapped her around as she listened, as still as if she were asleep. 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.
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For a long time Judge McKelva was seen as a reassuring figure by the many who knew and liked him. They looked at him, with his wife Becky and daughter Laurel, and they felt good: that was how well-bred people in Mount Salus, Mississippi, ought to be. When, ten years after his wife's death, the Judge marries silly young Fay everyone is disconcerted: but a lonely old man can be allowed at least one folly. For Laurel, however, her father's remarriage is a difficult and puzzling betrayal. Years later, circumstance brings Laurel back from Chicage: first to New Orleans, then to Mount Salus and the old house of her childhood. It is only here, alone with her memories, that Laurel can finally come to an understanding of the past, herself and her parents.
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