13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Especially meaningful to people of a "certain age."
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.
Published on 20 Oct 2002 by Mary Whipple
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a novel with a lot to offer, but doesn't offer any neat conclusions about grief or other aspects of the human predicament
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...
Published 20 months ago by William Jordan
Most Helpful First | Newest First
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Especially meaningful to people of a "certain age.",
This review is from: The Optimist's Daughter (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. The characters themselves lack subtlety, however, and the symbolism is obvious--birds and flowers are constant motifs, and in the final scene, a handmade breadboard assumes meanings for Laurel well beyond what one would expect for such a simple item. For those of us who have lived through the death of parents and the disposal of a family home, this novel has a resonance rare in modern fiction, one which transcends the period in which it was written and the Deep South (U.S.) location in which it is set. Mary Whipple
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Grief and love,
This review is from: The Optimist's Daughter (VMC) (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.
Welty wraps the slow, gradual storyline (which takes only a few days) in warm, colourful prose ("Sienna-bright leaves and thorns like spurts of matchflame had pierced through..."). She does have a tendency to let the dialogue from various people ramble, but often that rambling makes some very sharp points about loss, such as how the well-meaning often tell white lies about the dead, or ignore their dying wishes.
Laurel is kind of a nonentity for the first half of the book -- she's all locked up in herself, and we don't know much about her. But then Welty paints the devastating pain and guilt that she's been feeling, and shows how you have to let go of the past in order to live the future. Quite a contrast to the childish, putrescent Fay, whose rallying cry is always "What about ME?" and who accuses her dying husband of ruining her birthday.
"The Optimist's Daughter" is only optimistic as it ends -- up until then, it's a beautifully painful look at love, loss, and grief. A magnificent story, if a rather uncomfortable one.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars a novel with a lot to offer, but doesn't offer any neat conclusions about grief or other aspects of the human predicament,
This review is from: The Optimist's Daughter (VMC) (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.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Optimist's Daughter,
This review is from: The Optimist's Daughter (VMC) (Paperback)I returned to reading Eudora Welty (1911 -- 2000) after reading a recent collection of correspondence between this Southern American author and her friend and editor at the New Yorker, the novelist William Maxwell. What There Is to Say We Have Said: The Correspondence of Eudora Welty and William Maxwell A subsequent reading of Welty's last novel, "The Optimist's Daughter" for a book group helped increase my understanding and appreciation. Welty first wrote "The Optimist's Daughter" as a short story published in The New Yorker in 1969. She interrupted her long term project on the novel which became "Losing Battles" to write the story. In 1972, Welty expanded her story into a short novel with the same title. It received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1973.
Unlike most of Welty's writing, "The Optimist's Daughter" is autobiographical in nature and was inspired by the death of Welty's mother after a long, painful illness. The character Becky in the story, the first wife of the "optimist" Judge Clinton McKelva is modelled on Welty's mother as are the scenes which take place in West Virginia, Welty's mother's childhood home. The main character in the book, Laura McKelva Hand, 40, mourns the death of her father. The book discusses grieving and moving on with life. The book is set primarily in a small town, Mount Salus, Mississippi in the early 1960s with important scenes in New Orleans, West Virginia, and Baltimore. Much of the theme develops as Laura reflects on her past in the days following her father's funeral. She finds the strength to accept the death of her father, of her mother Becky twelve years earlier, and of her young husband Phil when he died at combat at sea during WW II and to move on with her life as a fabric designer in Chicago.
Much of the story, and of the major protagonist's growth in self-understanding, develops and through the relationship between Laura and her father's second wife, Fay, a woman of Laura's age. Many readers of the book tend at first to see Fay as exclusively crass, vulgar, and selfish. Fay certainly has these characteristics, but Welty adds a great deal of subtelty to her and to her stormy relationship with Laurel during the course of the novel. The opening scenes of the book seem to portray Fay almost stereotypically as she downplays Judge McKelva's serious illness and operation and a New Orleans hospital as she wants to kick up her heels and celebrate and attend the Mardi Gras. With the death of the Judge, Fay spurns the family friends who come to mourn in Mount Sallus. She lays her claim to the home and excludes Laura from all planning for the funeral. Her even more vulgar relatives from Texas, whose existence Fay had earlier denied to Laura, attend the funeral.
But there is a degree of commonality between Laura and Fay and much that Laura can learn from her. Welty shows that Fay and the Judge had a sexually active, erotic married life in their time together. In a stormy scene between Laura and Fay late in the novel, Fay explains her seemingly selfish behavior during the Judge's terminal illness: "I wanted him to live." and points out, cruelly but accurately, that Laurel has lived alone with her memories and without a sexual and emotional relationship for the proceeding twenty years. The novel ends as Laurel leaves Mount Sallus for what will be the last time to return to Chicago, resume her career, and, perhaps, find a richer emotional and sexual life.
The novel's themes are serious but Welty remains a largely comic writer. Even the scenes in the hospital and at the funeral are leavened with a great deal of humor based upon the contrasting behavior between Laurel, the Judge, and established Mount Salus society on the one hand and vulgar, unrefined people at the hospital and in the characters of Fay's family, at the funeral. The bird and flower symbolism which pervade the novel enhance the theme of moving ahead from the past and from sorrow to partake of the joys of life.
"The Optimist's Daughter" is a tightly constructed and subtle short novel. Unlike many novelists who cannot resist writing on an expansive, ideologically driven scope, Welty's novel is highly focused on the inner life of its protagonist, Laura, over the course of a few days. As a result, it is eloquent, poetic and moving. Its themes, and Laura's rise in self-understanding, will stay with the reader. I learned a great deal from reading "The Optimist's Daughter" in the company of my book group.
3.0 out of 5 stars Character study - but frustrating.,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Optimist's Daughter (VMC) (Paperback)As a character study this short book works; as a novel it lacks purpose. Laurel has come home to Mississippi because of her father's illness and finds herself at loggerheads with his new wife, Fay. The characters are finely drawn and the sense of place is engaging, but I found myself at the end wondering what the point of the story was; Laurel does not seem to learn anything about herself or her parents, issues with Fay are not resolved - there is no enlightenment or feeling of growth. The story is split into four parts and when I'd finished I read the final part again to try to see what I'd missed - but the meaning escapes me.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Disappointing,
This review is from: The Optimist's Daughter (VMC) (Paperback)This book has won awards and came well recommended but I found it rather tedious. The characters did not engage me and the way the story developed was disappointing. There could have been deeper exploration of the characters through their thoughts - one character needed to show some understanding of the motivations of characters or the author neede to find another way of giving depth to the work. As it is the novel is shallow and does not engage the reader.
0 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good service, very resonably priced,
This review is from: The Optimist's Daughter (VMC) (Paperback)I received this book today, very carefully packaged, very good condition. Excellent price. One thing, I wish everyone would use the plain cardboard book envelopes and less plastic, for recycling issues. Thank you
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Optimist's Daughter (VMC) by Eudora Welty (Paperback - 18 Oct 1984)