I am participating in a community event organized by a fellow blogger at Weird and Wonderful
The book I am reviewing for the month of February is: The Optimists Daughter by Eudora Welty. I chose this book because of my personal challenge to read all of the Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction; I have read some amazing books from this list!
Eudora Welty is considered one of America’s most admired authors. Born in 1909 in Jackson Mississippi, her first book was published in 1941 and several others followed in quick succession. Welty then stopped publishing for several years, resuming again in 1970. In 1972 she produced The Optimists Daughter, which was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1973. Welty died in 2001 in her life-long home, Jackson Mississippi. (Welty’s bio)
The Optimists Daughter is a short novel, less than 200 pages, and the first book by Welty that I have read. The story itself is simple. Laurel McKelva Hand has traveled to New Orleans to be present for Judge McKelva’s surgery, the Judge is Laurel’s father. Laurel’s mother had died after a long illness years earlier and her father has since remarried a much younger woman named Fay. Laurel herself is also a widow, her husband died a year after their marriage in an attack on his naval ship during WWII. Laurel’s father never fully recovers from the surgery and dies while still in the hospital. Laurel and Fay travel by train to escort his body back to the family home in Mississippi for the funeral.
The story packs an emotional wallop as it deals with loss and grieving. Welty’s ability to tell the story primarily through the dialogue of each character is masterful. Welty imparts a distinctive voice to each person which enabled me to visualize them. Much of the story is told by the other characters, Laurel herself says very little, keeping her thoughts and feelings contained within herself as she observes and listens to the others. Each person in the story has different reactions to Judge McKelva’s death and again, Welty portrays each one vividly with her thoughtful descriptions, pacing and word choices.
I don’t want to give too many details about the plot or characters since I, as a reader, prefer to uncover them myself but one group of characters were particularly endearing, “The Bridesmaids”. This group of women, friends since childhood, were Laurel’s bridesmaids at her wedding and all six of them show up at the train station and several other times in the story. I loved how faithful, protective and supportive they were to Laurel, here is an excerpt from their reunion at the train station:
Tish Bullock winked at Laurel. It was a moment before she remembered: this was the bridesmaids automatic signal in acute joy or distress, to show solidarity.
After the funeral, Laurel remains alone in the family home with her grief, searching for meaning, memories and understanding of her past and it’s relationship to the present. Sooner or later, and like Laurel, each of us will deal with this most common human experience – the death and loss of people we love. Beautifully told, full of emotion, I definitely recommend a slow, thoughtful reading of this book.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” Revelation 21: 3, 4