Saturday, October 23, 2010
A Southern Classic: The Optimist's Daughter
Eudora Welty is one of the most admired writers who wrote about the American South. The Optimist's Daughter won her the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. This short novel tells the story of Laura McKelva Hand who grows up in the South but then leaves to pursue a career in Chicago. Her ailing father Judge McKelva is suffering from an eye "disturbance," so she comes to be by his side in New Orleans. After an outrageous display of behavior by Laura's exasperating stepmother Fay (who comments upon learning of the Judge's ailments, "I don't see why this had to happen to me"), Judge McKelva passes away. Laura then returns to her childhood home in Mississippi for the funeral. While there, she comes to a deeper understanding of her family and her upbringing.
The dialogue is, at times, quite funny. Perhaps my favorite line is when Dr. Courtland, a good friend of the Judge's who performed the eye operation, comments that while it may seem like the Judge is asleep, "he's just possuming." The novel takes a more serious and contemplative turn when Laurel returns home and eventually confronts Fay. I enjoyed this novel, but not enough to read more of Welty's books in the immediate. However, I am going to seek out more novels featuring the South.