Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"The Optimist's Daughter" By Eudora Welty

This one of the few books I've finished reading that won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. That immediately heightens everyone's expectations, including mine, but this book felt like an odd choice for the award, due to its rather everyday plot.

The Optimist's Daughter is about a little bit of everything: grief, growing up, cutting ties to the past, and looking to the future, and is set in the late 1960s. It is told in a style verbose prose that borders on poetic, capturing mundane things we all eventually experience in a unique way. It is said that a "good bit" of this novel is autobiographical, which was not the author's usual style.

The Plot:
Laurel, the only child of Judge McKelva, arrives in New Orleans to assist him and her stepmother (Fay) after he has his eye surgery. Laurel also happens to be a widow whose husband died in the War, and has chosen not to remarry. Things become more difficult when her father dies unexpectedly, and suddenly she has a funeral to plan, as well as a past to confront.

Have you ever had to go to a relative's funeral in a town you grew up in? That is the discernable (and very compacted) plot of this book. I breezed through it easily enough a year ago, but it didn't meet my expectations of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, mainly because I like more dynamic reads. The only action I can readily recall happening in this book was when a bird got stuck in the house, so if you're looking for something non-introspective to read, this isn't it.

I really wanted to love this story, as I know what it's like to have someone in the family die and then to have to deal with vulture-like relatives and well-meaning family friends. But as the book drew on, I realized this is one of those books I avoid: it probably has some abstract second meaning that I'll never catch onto without someone explaining it to me- twice. And while I appreciated the basic story, it didn't make the list of classics I want everyone to know about and read.

The Optimist's Daughter is incredibly introspective and very well written. But, as an accomplished book devourer, I wanted a little more meat to the story than what was given. If you're interested in reading classics, this one is certainly worth reading for its small page count, as well as its themes of grief and the past. But for the average reader who expects a lot out of their reads, this book doesn't have much to offer.

Rating: 3 of 5 Stars for a interesting, but ultimately unremarkable read.

Content: Really not a lot to object to, but I advise Ages 16+ for interest reasons.

Page Count: 176 pages in my paperback edition

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