Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Review of "The Optimist's Daughter" by Eudora Welty
Laurel Hand travels from her home in Chicago to a hospital in New Orleans when her father, Judge McKelva has an an eye operation. The judge's second (and much younger) wife, Fay also accompanies her husband from their home in Mississippi. The judge languishes after the surgery, becomes withdrawn and silent, and eventually dies. Through all this Laurel tries to support her father but Fay carries on and makes scene after scene - insisting that the judge recover - and probably hastening his demise.
After the judge's death the women return to Mt. Salus, Mississippi with his body. Friends and neighbors who've known the McKelva family for ages come around to express their condolences, help out, and so on. Most people in the community dislike and resent Fay, who continues her histrionics until she goes off to visit relatives for a couple of days. Meanwhile Laurel remains in her childhood home for a weekend, visiting with friends and trying to come to terms with the deaths of several loved ones: her mother Becky some years ago, her husband Phil in the war, and her father.
I thought the story was a realistic portrayal of a close-knit community and the manner in which people react to the death of a beloved family member/respected person in the community/friend, etc. No tremendous insights here but a number of interesting characters - Laurel, Fay, Becky, some of Laurel's friends and neighbors - made the book worth reading.