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The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
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The Optimist's Daughter (original 1972; edition 1990)

by Eudora Welty

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1,523None4,816 (3.51)117
Member:marinajuric
Title:The Optimist's Daughter
Authors:Eudora Welty
Info:Vintage (1990), Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:Read in 2012, Read but unowned
Rating:***
Tags:None

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The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty (1972)

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English (36)  Spanish (5)  Catalan (1)  All languages (42)
Showing 1-5 of 36 (next | show all)
I chose this book of Welty's first from the list because it was the thinnest :) Not a good way to choose books, I know, & I was told it might not be easily understood because some of the references were a little obscure. Well, I was captivated by this story of family, pain, loss, & dealing with the aftermath of it all right from the first page. In reading this, there were times I caught glimpses of my own family & past, & sometimes they were all as foreign to me as oceans away. Parts of it I cringed though in embarrassment for Laurel, but like a train wreck, I couldn't look away. Overall, I was very impressed by this book, & since there are other stories by the same author on my challenge list, I'm finding myself looking forward to reading them. ( )
  Lisa.Johnson.James | Apr 11, 2014 |
Three and a half stars. I guess I will steal a fellow Goodreads member's words because they perfectly sum up this book: "the atmosphere and feelings Welty creates with her words are more the plot than any event or character".

( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
Three and a half stars. I guess I will steal a fellow Goodreads member's words because they perfectly sum up this book: "the atmosphere and feelings Welty creates with her words are more the plot than any event or character".

( )
  FAR2MANYBOOKS | Apr 5, 2014 |
I found the phrasing and dialog very awkward and agree with the previous reviewer that the characters felt flat. The build up of what had happened with Laurel's parents just didn't resonate for me or make sense. ( )
  nancenwv | Mar 25, 2014 |
776624 Father dies after surgery. Much younger second wife throws a scene. Daughter of first wife mourns...while resenting younger step-mother?

It took me most of the story to become interested in the story. one night, I just flat didn't want to read it because it was so boring. The protagonist felt flat and emotionless for so long that I started to wonder if I any conflict really existed at all. Finally, the character starts to express some emotion, starts to show some feeling, and suddenly snaps...but it took so long to get there, even for the short and quick book like this one is.

All that aside, there are perhaps redemptive qualities to this short novel. Welty examines the different experiences and qualities that different people bring to a relationship, and to a marriage, and the effect that those qualities and experiences bequeath to their children.

To be honest, though, this probably is not my type of book. Too much melancholy, dying, and nostalgia and all that looking back mournfully is just too droll for me. Further, not unlike McCormac, if not quite so, Welty is almost painfully sparse in her language, describing just enough to move the story along.

Should you read it? Maybe. If you like Welty. ( )
  publiusdb | Aug 22, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 36 (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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A nurse held the door open for them.
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. (Introduction)
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Book description
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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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 067972883X, Paperback)

The Optimist's Daughter is a compact and inward-looking little novel, a Pulitzer Prize winner that's slight of page yet big of heart. The optimist in question is 71-year-old Judge McKelva, who has come to a New Orleans hospital from Mount Salus, Mississippi, complaining of a "disturbance" in his vision. To his daughter, Laurel, it's as rare for him to admit "self-concern" as it is for him to be sick, and she immediately flies down from Chicago to be by his side. The subsequent operation on the judge's eye goes well, but the recovery does not. He lies still with both eyes heavily bandaged, growing ever more passive until finally--with some help from the shockingly vulgar Fay, his wife of two years--he simply dies. Together Fay and Laurel travel to Mount Salus to bury him, and the novel begins the inward spiral that leads Laurel to the moment when "all she had found had found her," when the "deepest spring in her heart had uncovered itself" and begins to flow again.

Not much actually happens in the rest of the book--Fay's low-rent relatives arrive for the funeral, a bird flies down the chimney and is trapped in the hall--and yet Welty manages to compress the richness of an entire life within its pages. This is a world, after all, in which a set of complex relationships can be conveyed by the phrase "I know his whole family" or by the criticism "When he brought her here to your house, she had very little idea of how to separate an egg." Does such a place exist anymore? It is vanishing even from this novel, and the personification of its vanishing is none other than Fay--petulant, graceless, childish, with neither the passion nor the imagination to love. Welty expends a lot of vindictive energy on Fay and her kin, who must be the most small-minded, mean-mouthed clan since the Snopeses hit Frenchman's Bend. There's more than just class snobbery at work here (though that surely comes into it too). As Welty sees it, they are a special historical tribe who exult in grieving because they have come to be good at it, and who seethe with resentment from the day they are born. They have come "out of all times of trouble, past or future--the great, interrelated family of those who never know the meaning of what has happened to them."

Fay belongs to the future, as she makes clear; it's Laurel who belongs to the past--Welty's own chosen territory. In her fine memoir, One Writer's Beginnings, Welty described the way art could shine a light back "as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you've come." Here, in one of her most autobiographical works, the past joins seamlessly with the present in a masterful evocation of grief, memory, loss, and love. Beautifully written, moving but never mawkish, The Optimist's Daughter is Eudora Welty's greatest achievement--which is high praise indeed. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:48:50 -0400)

(see all 7 descriptions)

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)

(summary from another edition)

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