Hoping for a Bit More from The Optimist’s Daughter

The Optimist’s Daughter

The Optimist’s Daughter
Eudora Welty

This book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1972.

It must have been a slow year. Not that the book is bad, it’s just not that good. The characters are flat and static, which is a personal pet peeve, made worse here by the fact that there’s not much in the way of a plot.

The basics: Laurel is a 40 something widow whose mother has died more than 10 years before the start of the book. Her father, seventy years old, has married a woman his daughter’s age. He falls ill and dies. Laurel mourns, spending a few days alone in her childhood home after the funeral, thinking about those loved ones she has lost. Stepmother is an evil witch.

That said, there are some absolutely beautiful passages, such as when Laurel recalls a childhood memory of visiting her mother’s home state of West Virginia:

Bird dogs went streaking the upslanted pasture through the sweet long grass that swept them as high as their noses. While it was still day on top of the mountain, the light still warm on the cheek, the valley was died blue under them.

Now, if there was a bit more of that, I’d be willing to overlook many more of the book’s flaws. But alas, the balance is tipped against it. Three stars.


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