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The Optimist's Daughter: A Novel by Hardcover – May 2002

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; Book Club Edition edition (May 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 037550835X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375508356
  • Product Dimensions: 21.3 x 14.6 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,716,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

Review

Her last, most autobiographical, and finest novel (Independent)

A gentle, tender work, bright with Welty's sharp humour and pioneer sense of place. (Guardian) --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Book Description

A reflective, poignant novel of independence and love from one of America's greatest contemporary Southern writers. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 4 Feb. 2008
Format: Paperback
Like love, grief is ultimately something that we must all go through alone. There can be people who help, but our emotional journeys are ours alone.

And that is the heart of "The Optimist's Daughter," a dark, quiet little novel set in the mid-20th century South. Eudora Welty explores a difficult, emotionally wringing topic -- one woman losing the last loved one she had, and the struggle to come to terms with the many people she's lost.

Elderly but healthy Judge McKelva goes in for an eye operation, but seems strangely lethargic afterwards. His daughter Laurel -- who has been away for several years -- is concerned as her father continues to decline, especially since his flaky second wife Fay is treating him badly, and even has to be physically restrained by a nurse. Then the judge dies.

And Laurel finds herself in her old family home, trying to deal with Fay, her weird family, and the many well-meaning-but-dense friends that McKelva had over the years. But when the house is empty and she is alone, Laurel looks back on her life -- her all-too-brief marriage to a loving man, her mother's horrible death, and her father's remarriage -- and learns how to feel again.

Few books that I've read really handle the subject of grief -- usually people hug, cry, and get over it except for a few pages every now and then, when there is a mention of the Dearly Departed.

But not many authors can really get to the wrenching, lonely core of grief and loss, and how it can set us free, or lock our emotions and throw away the key. And that is basically what "The Optimist's Daughter" is all about -- McKelva's illness and death are a prelude to Laurel's soul-searching, and the exploration of how she handles her grief.
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Format: Paperback
This novel focuses on the death, funeral, and immediate aftermath of the 'optimist' of the title, as seen through the eyes of his widowed daughter. The optimist has recently, at the age of about 70, remarried - for reasons it's hard for his daughter to understand - someone very unlike his first wife. He dies a bit unexpectedly as he should be recovering from an eye operation. His new wife is deeply unsympathetic to him in his suffering and after his death. His daughter cares greatly; and recollects the earlier death of her mother and her husband in the war (the novel was published in 1972 drawing on a slightly earlier short story.

There's a very large cast of characters here - those in the hospital (Judge, family, neighbour in the next bed plus family), his second wife's large extended family, and the Judge's neighbours and friends in Mount Salus, where he lives. All are well rendered and come and go just as people do in a hospital environment and at a funeral and in the days immediately following. There's also a period in the novel offering the central figure's recollections of her own childhood, of her mother's parents and of her mother, including in a last 5 years of serious ill-health.

In short, this novel has quite a lot to offer - and it won the Pulitzer Prize in the US when it came out. It has the downsides that accompany its strengths, in the same way as Welty's earlier Delta Wedding, which is focussed on a wedding with a very large cast of characters coming and going. 'Yes I've understood that', I think as I reach the end and the optimist's daughter departs her father's house after a final confrontation with the second wife...'and then what? will her life be different? has she come to understand anything differently?' and so on....The fact that, perhaps, nothing becomes much clearer as the novel goes on - simply this is life being lived - is perhaps, though, just part of its realism as a narrative.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on 20 Oct. 2002
Format: Paperback
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1973, this moving study of memory and the progression of generations is still vibrant and relevant thirty years later. Not only does it show us the ripple effect that one person's passing has on loved ones, it also shows us the changes to society which occur as older generations pass away and new generations take their place.
Welty's concern here is with values--those traditional southern (U.S.) values learned by Laurel, the daughter of a Mississippi judge, from her parents; those learned by her parents from their parents; those imparted by the town she grew up in and the people who lived there; and those which Laurel has absorbed from her life as an artist in Chicago. In her values she is in direct contrast with Fay, the judge's young second wife, a crass and selfish woman from Texas with a large, boisterous, and uneducated family--a woman whose only desire is to come out a winner. When the judge dies, Laurel returns temporarily to her old room in the family home, which, Fay takes great pains to remind her, now belongs to Fay. There, surrounded by family belongings, she is assailed by memories of her childhood, her mother, her mother's final illness, and her relationship with her father. Her pre-occupation with the past is in direct contrast with Fay's concern with the present and her future--these women clearly belong to different worlds, and only Laurel is capable of change or adaptation.
Welty's ear for dialogue is unerring. She reveals character, class, and education in her syntax and choice of vocabulary and creates conflicts from the smallest of details--a misunderstood word, an imagined slight, a presumption. The conflict is leavened by humor in many places, some of it dark, especially when Fay's "no 'count" family arrives at the funeral.
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