Demisty Bellinger's Reviews > The Optimist's Daughter

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
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Apr 14, 2012

really liked it

** spoiler alert ** Laurel McKelva Hand, an only daughter, rushes home to the South from Chicago because her father, Judge McKelva, told her he was going in for eye problems. His wife's illnesses begin similarly which eventually led to her death. He learns that his retina has slipped, which requires an operation and a recovery that requires stillness. His young wife, Fay, is against the operation and internalizes the suffering to be her own—something happening to her—not the judge's.

Eventually, the judge dies, and while dealing with his friends and her friends from her youth as well as his selfish, lying wife, Laurel realizes that she has put too much stock in the past, that she can do no more in her or her family's past. After telling Fay that she has no power of this past, she marvels to herself: “The past is no more open to help or hurt than was Father in his coffin. The past is like him, impervious, and can never be awakened. It is memory that is the somnambulist. It will come back in its wounds from across the world. . . demanding its rightful tears” and later “Memory lived not in initial possession but in the freed hands, pardoned and freed, and in the heart that can empty but fill again” (179).

Short and to the point, the book is cool, observational, and respectful to characters even like Fay and her obnoxious family who arrive at Judge McKelva's funeral unannounced. Welty is a master at creating a narrator who is not without bias, but one who is fair in her assessment. Her judgement is so quiet, it can be missed.
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