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The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty
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The Optimist's Daughter: Eudora Welty's Celebration of Life and Memory

"But the guilt of outliving those you love is justly to be borne, she thought. Outliving is something we do to them. The fantasies of dying could be no stranger than the fantasies of living. Surviving is perhaps the strangest fantasy of them all."--Laurel McKelva Hand


It is bittersweet to write about this little gem. It comes with no frills, no literary allusions, no photographs.

My mother died on February 1, 2012. She gave me this book for Christmas, 1973. I was twenty-one, had never lost a loved one, nor even a close friend. I had nothing ahead of me but the future. Memory was reserved for college examinations. And mine was very good.

But over the passage of time, as we all have, or all will, we will view memory with different eyes. There will be less plates to place on the dinner table. There will be fewer birthdays to celebrate, a package or two less to wrap at Christmas. I attend more funerals these days.

Welty portrays the classic Southern funeral with perfection. Everything is there. The exaggerated and loud voices nervously chatting up the good qualities of the deceased. The tables heavily laden with hams, vegetables, casseroles. The odor of flowers. The subsequent emptiness, and the loneliness.

I know Laurel. We could walk hand in hand. I imagine we could talk for hours about love and the loss of it. Some may find her too prim, too reserved. But perhaps tears are better shed in privacy, as opposed to Fay's widow's breakdown, perfectly timed and very public, though I suppose there is a place for that, if the feelings are true.

Welty puts this story together in layer upon layer as carefully as my grandmother put together a coconut cake at Christmas. Laurel's past is slowly disclosed. The meaning of the group of bride's maids becomes clear only well into the story. Laurel is a war widow. Her husband shook hands with a Kamikaze in the Pacific. She still dreams of him. She has remained a widow by choice.

But now she has suffered loss for the third time. Her mother, her husband, her father. But she was an optimist's daughter.

Her father, Judge McKelva, had weathered the death of Becky, Laurel's mother. In his seventies, he married Fay, younger than his daughter, and he weathered that marriage, though Fay did not have the intelligence of his wife or daughter, nor have his place in society. She was young and someone to protect, a factor never to be underestimated in any man. Perhaps he did not see her love of the material, her coarseness, her shallowness, or vulgarity. But he moved forward where Laurel did not.

I can't put my hands on that Christmas gift from years ago. It is packed somewhere among the many books boxed away along with photograph albums of three generations. But I will find it. Each day I look at all those boxes, and with few exceptions I say, "No, not today." But I will find it. And when I do, I will read that gift from a Christmas so long ago.

As Miss Welty said,

"It is memory that is the somnambulist. It will come back in its wounds from across the world...calling us by our names and demanding its rightful tears. It will never be impervious. The memory can hurt, time and again--but in that may lie its final mercy. As long as it's vulnerable to the living moment, it lives for us, and while it lives, and while we are able, we can give it up its due."


For my Mother, Ann Sullivan, August 27, 1935-February 1, 2012



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message 1: by Kris (new) - added it

Kris Mike, this a beautiful review and, more important, a heartfelt tribute to your mother. I found the way you wove together memories of your mother and The Optimist's Daughter to be very moving. I also liked the way you moved through the exploration of memory from your college days to a much richer, and more personal, approach that you share with Welty. My sympathies on the death of your mother - I am sure you will continue to carry her with you.


message 2: by GoldGato (new)

GoldGato Wow


Richard Mike, Kris expressed (more or less) how I felt on reading your review, so I will merely second it.


Mike Thank you, Kris. I appreciate your comments very much.


Mike GoldGato, thank you very much.


Mike Richard wrote: "Mike, Kris expressed (more or less) how I felt on reading your review, so I will merely second it."

Richard, so good to hear from you. I hope this finds you well. My thanks for your comment.


message 7: by Robby (new)

Robby Mike,I would like to express my belated condolence for your loss. My mother is 81 and has been suffering with ill health for quite sometime now. This referenced selection looks to have some consoling words for these times. As noted before,I find your reviews uplifting for my spirit.GOD BLESS and thanks Mike.


Mike Robby wrote: "Mike,I would like to express my belated condolence for your loss. My mother is 81 and has been suffering with ill health for quite sometime now. This referenced selection looks to have some consoli..."

Many thanks, Robby. I love Welty. Some of her most beautiful writing is in these pages.


Tony I read for the emotions wrought. And you've done that once again for me. Puddling up here, Mike. And quite proud to call you 'Friend'.


message 10: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Tony wrote: "I read for the emotions wrought. And you've done that once again for me. Puddling up here, Mike. And quite proud to call you 'Friend'."

Thank you, Tony. I'm also proud to call you "Friend" as well. Looking forward to luring you down past the Mason-Dixon Line. *grin*


Jeffrey Keeten Sir Michael, wonderful review simply lovely. I have known you long enough to have experience the travails of your struggles with your mother's health. I appreciate and cherish our candid conversations about life and the continuation of life for the living after the death of a loved one. I hope this review was cathartic with equal measures of sweet to offset the taste of the bitter.


Wordsmith Hey Mike, just beautiful to read. What a fitting tribute to your mother, the rich relationship the two of you shared comes shining through, so heartfelt, so bright and clear with every bit of unshared prose. I can't help but think she's reading every word, somehow a beacon, from you to her.

So very fitting to The Optimist Daughter. A little gem of a review for this little gem of southern perfection. All that perfect, that richness, packs a wallop in such a small book.


Cynthia Lovely review. When you find the book, you'll have to share your mom's inscription, if she wrote one. Thanks, Mike.


message 14: by Barbara (new)

Barbara A beautiful, heartfelt review, MIke.
I cannot help but share how touching I found that final quotation. My husband passed away 8 months ago, so it had a special meaning for me.


message 15: by Maggie (new)

Maggie Another great review - must read the book, its on my TBR sgelf.


message 16: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Cynthia wrote: "Lovely review. When you find the book, you'll have to share your mom's inscription, if she wrote one. Thanks, Mike."

Thank you Cynthia. Oh, I don't have to see the book. Her inscriptions were always quite simple. "For Mike, from Mother, Christmas, 1973."


message 17: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Barbara wrote: "A beautiful, heartfelt review, MIke.
I cannot help but share how touching I found that final quotation. My husband passed away 8 months ago, so it had a special meaning for me."


Thank you, Barbara. Yes, that final quote is quite powerful. It sums up how our memories fill up the absence of our loved ones, sometimes with pain, sometimes with a soft smile, and when we try, with a raucous laugh over a particular small thing that would not be nearly as funny to any other human beings other than the ones who experienced it.


message 18: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Maggie wrote: "Another great review - must read the book, its on my TBR sgelf."

Thank you, Maggie. When you read it, please be sure to share your impressions with me. I'd love to know what you thought of it.


message 19: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Chelsea wrote: "A lovely, loving tribute, Mike. Thank you for sharing."

It is always a pleasure to hear from you, Chelsea. Yes, it is a tribute, and a loving one. It is an example of the power of an author's words to evoke the deepest human response. I found a bit of irony that this novel would be one of our group reads during my mother's birthday month. Life has a way of making us face our difficulties, whether we want to, or not. *smile*


message 20: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Wordsmith wrote: "Hey Mike, just beautiful to read. What a fitting tribute to your mother, the rich relationship the two of you shared comes shining through, so heartfelt, so bright and clear with every bit of unsh..."

Dear Mary, Thank you for your kind words. We must meet for coffee at Barnes and Noble, peruse the aisles and share Tuscaloosa memories.


message 21: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Jeffrey wrote: "Sir Michael, wonderful review simply lovely. I have known you long enough to have experience the travails of your struggles with your mother's health. I appreciate and cherish our candid conversa..."

Sir Geoffrey, we are twin sons of different mothers. *grin* And I value those candid conversations more than you know. Here's hoping you reached "The Hamlet" last night. I'm about half way done. I continue to enjoy it no matter how often I read it. I was green with envy over the photograph of Vidal's Messiah. It appeared pristine.


message 22: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue Wonderful review Mike, and, as others have said, wonderful loving tribute to your mother. I've just started the book and I'm anticipating the reactions and moments to come. My mother died in January of 2011 at 102. She and my father both fostered the love of books and reading and, since I had my Mom for so long, we did share this for a long time (even if we had different tastes!)

Thank you for your review as I think it will enhance my reading experience.


Wordsmith Thanks Mike, I know! Much better than the library, as most likely you'll be muttering, "Hmmm, does this gal ALWAYS talk this much!" *big grin* Only when talking Southern, Books, Literature, Roots and all the varied points in between. Something tells me you might be the same. Barnes and Noble, "Watch Out!"


Cynthia Mike wrote: "Cynthia wrote: "Lovely review. When you find the book, you'll have to share your mom's inscription, if she wrote one. Thanks, Mike."

Thank you Cynthia. Oh, I don't have to see the book. Her insc..."


Sweet.


Franky Fantastic review, Mike. Very nice tribute to your mother. You really see the deeper meaning of how books can connect to our daily lives and important people in our lives. I'm hoping to get to this book soon.


message 26: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Sue wrote: "Wonderful review Mike, and, as others have said, wonderful loving tribute to your mother. I've just started the book and I'm anticipating the reactions and moments to come. My mother died in Januar..."

Many thanks, Sue. Mother was a constant reader. Sometimes our tastes meshed, and at others we would veer off in different directions. We shared many a shopping trip to various book stores. As her health steadily declined and she became home bound, she became an e-reader fan, having a Nook and a Kindle.

She was reading up to the day she died. One of her doctors told me that his daughter often read at the dinner table and that her mother fussed at her for being unsociable. He told his wife to ease up, using my mother as an example of how reading had created an agile and keen mind though her body was weak. His daughter is a fine student, by the way. *smile*


message 27: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Franky wrote: "Fantastic review, Mike. Very nice tribute to your mother. You really see the deeper meaning of how books can connect to our daily lives and important people in our lives. I'm hoping to get to this ..."

Thank you, Franky. And I will be interested in your response to this little book. One of the joys I have experienced is reading once again those novels I read in high school and college. What I merely passed over with a simple appreciation of the writer's story telling and language usage now carries a much deeper meaning to me now. I've much more Welty to read to complete her works. My reads have been spotty and I mean to fill in the gaps.


message 28: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Wordsmith wrote: "Thanks Mike, I know! Much better than the library, as most likely you'll be muttering, "Hmmm, does this gal ALWAYS talk this much!" *big grin* Only when talking Southern, Books, Literature, Roots a..."

Message me, Mary. And we'll schedule that Barnes and Noble Expedition. I do think it would be a pleasant visit, indeed.


Wordsmith Thanks Mike. Will do. I'm looking forward to our pleasant expedition. I got caught up in things yesterday and *egads* such is life. It makes you want to swat it away. Now all my "real" stuff is clogged up, overloaded to the hilt. That's all it took, was just one day! One day to crash my phone! Messages, E-Mails, oops ah daisy! Pop, a strange blank screen appeared. Memory overload. Just a day....SO—a lesson learned. Balance.....Balance.....is the key.

No way! Barnes & Nobles sounds a whole lot better than catching up with prior overloading. Nothing better than a "real" conversation with a fellow bibliophile while perched over frothy coffee surrounded by thousands of real books. It's a plan. .


message 30: by Gary (last edited Aug 08, 2012 09:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Belated sympathy, Mike..... I lost my mother a couple years ago. Completely unexpected..... I have all her books,and a beautiful old bookcase that had been her mother's. My mother inspired me to be a reader...... and yet my brother said he didn't see her that way....... amazing to me how he didn't "get it."

Anyway, that bond of reading,and to experience a great book through your mother is near and dear to my heart. Welty's novel is amazing.....I need to read it again.

gary


Richard Gary wrote: "Belated sympathy, Mike..... I lost my mother a couple years ago. Completely unexpected..... I have all her books,and a beautiful old bookcase that had been her mother's. My mother inspired me to be..."

Gary, Funny how that works in families isn't it? My mom's parents were both voracious readers and she inherited this. My dad used to read very little. Guess who I took after?


message 32: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Richard wrote: "Gary wrote: "Belated sympathy, Mike..... I lost my mother a couple years ago. Completely unexpected..... I have all her books,and a beautiful old bookcase that had been her mother's. My mother insp..."

;-)


Wordsmith Hmmmm?


message 34: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Richard wrote: "Gary wrote: "Belated sympathy, Mike..... I lost my mother a couple years ago. Completely unexpected..... I have all her books,and a beautiful old bookcase that had been her mother's. My mother insp..."

Both my grandparents and mother were all readers. My earliest library consisted of a teetering stack of Little Golden Books. Then my grandmother was adamant at our library that, "Yes, he CAN read these books." And, of course there was Miss Maxine of Lustig's bookstore who guided my reading throughout all my school years through high school. It was all fun, I thought, until I discovered Miss Maxine had guided me through every bit of literature I would be required to read in College. I have a debt of gratitude I owe to family, special teachers, and the wonderful shelves at Lustig's Bookstore, through which Miss Maxine led me one title at a time.

Mike


Wordsmith Wordsmith wrote: "Thanks Mike, I know! Much better than the library, as most likely you'll be muttering, "Hmmm, does this gal ALWAYS talk this much!" *big grin* Only when talking Southern, Books, Literature, Roots a..."

Mike,
"most likely you'll be muttering, "Hmmm, does this gal ALWAYS talk this much!"
Ha! I shamefully proved my point. I cannot tell a lie. On a brighter note, You, my man, are simply a delight. I don't know about you, but as for me, I feel like there are so many more stories to share. The experience of our meeting, swapping stories and sipping sweetened Starbucks is kind of like a potato chip. Or a Harold Robbins novel.

{after you left: I went a little crazy} *$$$*


message 36: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Wordsmith wrote: "Wordsmith wrote: "Thanks Mike, I know! Much better than the library, as most likely you'll be muttering, "Hmmm, does this gal ALWAYS talk this much!" *big grin* Only when talking Southern, Books, L..."

Wordsmith, it was indeed a delight, for me as well. Yes, there will be many more Tuscaloosa stories to share. And for the rest of our merry band here on the Southern Literary Trail, if you have the opportunity to meet one of our group members personally, by all means try to do so. Our afternoon of coffee, family stories and community history was time well spent. And, yes, the lady can really talk books. *grin* So, perhaps, if the fates allow, we can organize a few state "Chapters." And for my book and coffee pal, yes, it was a delightful afternoon!

Mike
Lawyer Stevens


Melki I'm not going to read your review til after I read the book, but I thought you might enjoy hearing that I found a first edition of this at the Salvation Army store today. It cost a buck.


message 38: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Melki wrote: "I'm not going to read your review til after I read the book, but I thought you might enjoy hearing that I found a first edition of this at the Salvation Army store today. It cost a buck."

Huzzah! What a bargain for a jewel.


message 39: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue Melki wrote: "I'm not going to read your review til after I read the book, but I thought you might enjoy hearing that I found a first edition of this at the Salvation Army store today. It cost a buck."

Nice move. I'm thinking of getting a copy online as I'm really liking this book.


message 40: by Robin (new) - added it

Robin Mike, I'm just getting ready to really dig into The Optimist's Daughter. Your review was exquisite - now I'm truly excited about sitting down for a read. Thank you for your beautifully constructed review.


Wordsmith Mike wrote: "Wordsmith wrote: "Wordsmith wrote: "Thanks Mike, I know! Much better than the library, as most likely you'll be muttering, "Hmmm, does this gal ALWAYS talk this much!" *big grin* Only when talking ..."

Mike,
*Shame On Me!* or Goodreads....No, no! ultimately, that would have to be on me, regardless. I'm so sorry Mike. I missed this post AND the notification AND the E-Mail. If you can believe it, and you can, so it must be the Fates conspiring, saying NOW is the time for replying. Whatever, I'm just so glad, thrilled, that Robin posted! Whew! Now I can reply to you.

I would (not-*grin*-not really, but you know what I mean) rather die than have you think for even one second I've snubbed you. I'd never do that to a fine fellow such as yourself, or anybody for that matter. But you really are a fine fellow, a great conversationalist, and you know and love Tuscaloosa as much as I do, maybe as much as any local historian. And dare I say it? You may know more about my family history than some *cough-cough* of those in THE family. It must be this grand Goodreads Serendipity at work, that out of the trillion, gazillion readers here, out of the blue, who do I meet but...you? Providence, coincidence, happenstance, destiny, even by an accidental click—no matter.—The odds and ends of meeting you, whatever it was that brought us together, has already made me all the better, as a reader, (crossing fingers as a "great" reviewer *brave smile*) and guiding my (lost-repressed?) focus-love back onto—into Southern Literature I can't say it any plainer than that. It's the truth. Not to mention all these great friends I've made, with whom I'm able to relate to on so many levels and numbers of things.

It was an afternoon well spent, but a perfect example of "my how time doth fly!" The time and afternoon did just that. I would of liked to have shared more Strode stories, more than the skimming we did. We may have plucked a feather or two, but between the two of us, goodness gracious the precious meat left unsaid, all we never even got to! At some point these stories must be given their due. I believe in my heart, some tales are meant to be told, I know this as being one thing I believe to be absolutely true.

I must add the FSF and ZSF ones as well. So important, as it goes without saying, interesting. (HA! and I said it anyway!) I'm not even sure if those feathers were fully plucked. I'm thinking, maybe, they were sifting, shapeless, soft, downy, morsel's caught in the air, here and there, by one of us, during some point in our palavering. That's not good enough. And too, the elusive Ms. Lee. Lord, there's so much more, honestly, I'm not sure even if you add up all we did talk about, if we got a true, full skimming. lol. What would that be called? "A Dip Into The Southern Skim...Skimming In One Quarter Measure: Quarter Talking About Umpteen Relatable Things While Sipping Latte In A Local Starbucks."...

That is, when the lady will let him...lol. I told you true, Mike-*grin*-no half-truths here, or even worse: cyber-lies, or misrepresentation on any level. Certainly on this. Wind me up—on this subject I love, that's personally dear to my heart, that is my heart, a very part of me, of who I am, well, ok...we might be needing an agenda to sort out whose turn it is to be holding the big stick, as it were.

And yes, the chapter's, the posting's, the picture's are STILL a thing I certainly want to do. Believe it or not, I actually think about this quite often. It's taking up what little space I have left in the forefront of my brain I need for pondering more important things such as the lag time I can't escape at the moment leaving me behind on 40 books I needs be reviewing. It's an endless cycle kind of thing, the lagging, pondering and thinking. Result: Ahhh-Tommorrow. So of course, when I begin thinking about it (the stories for the group-history-actually) I think, not now and I try to swat the thoughts away, because really, they are not tops on my to-do-list, but tell that to my brainy waves, the tales come to life unbidden by me, using, like I said, more than their share of what I have left allotted, my sacred space for creative thinking. One) Either I need to fall into this, do it all, do it right. Or Two) Well, hmmm, actually, there is no two, not really. I was going to say, "Fuhhgged-aboudditt." No, not an option. I suppose I could keep on a swattin'. And put the project off for later.

MAYBE-hopefully-surely get these reviews, either: typed up and posted, written, typed and posted, and/or re-written and click the save button. When all my 'space' comes back, Mike, and it better, you can bet I'm counting on it, and it better be better than ever, intact, every transmission, connection, every cognitive digression into every neural pathway anyone of my brainwaves ever took or even thought of taking or even misfired while making a neural connection I dared to triple think into a mind leap on a quantum equation requiring 10 MIT Double Doctorates and 12 members of a secret Think Tank and...whatever... to assimilate. You get my drift, I want to be all me again, with my thinking brain, it is mine after all *sarcastic roll of the eyes* maybe I'm getting there. I'm finally, finally feeling the first hint of it. Maybe. Still, I am sorry I missed your post. But thanks for a great conversation at Barnes & Nobles. (Man, did I ever drop a wad of dinero, in that place, after you left. I went a little crazy on the *dead tree books* kinda like I'd never seen or had one before. BOOK FEVER It comes on fast. You don't know what hits you. Most often afflicts those: 1) In the prescence of a large number of great books, 2) A place where the bargains on a vast number of books can bring on an odd sort of delirium, those afflicted quite often don't even know which way to turn, and 3) Those in blessed enough to be in close proximity to those rare first editions. And if they are signed, well, it's better to have the paramedics on hand just in case. To be safe. ; ) this is what's known as BOOK FEVER
Mary


message 42: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Robin wrote: "Mike, I'm just getting ready to really dig into The Optimist's Daughter. Your review was exquisite - now I'm truly excited about sitting down for a read. Thank you for your beautifully constructed ..."

Robin, Thanks so much. I'm eager to get your opinion on it.


message 43: by Mike (new) - rated it 4 stars

Mike Wordsmith wrote: "Mike wrote: "Wordsmith wrote: "Wordsmith wrote: "Thanks Mike, I know! Much better than the library, as most likely you'll be muttering, "Hmmm, does this gal ALWAYS talk this much!" *big grin* Only ..."

It was a good afternoon. And you're so right. We barely skimmed the surface. Book fever does make good friendships. It's about time for another coffee. *grin*


message 44: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue Wordsmith, I like your definition of Book Fever. It's somehow far more satisfying than book addiction, etc. It matches that feeling when the book sort of speaks at you from the shelf, if you know what I mean.


Wordsmith Thanks Sue, and I do. I hear them from here, actually. Oh, wait, not that way, lol. Tuscaloosa was infamous, synonymous with (ugh, nasty term) "The Modern Insane Asylum", Bryce Hospital. FYI, I may hear the call of books, but I don't hear people. Or dogs, bats, not even one flying saucer. (Although if I did, I'd probably be telling all about it *grin*)


message 46: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue :)


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