2012 Book #7: The Optimist’s Daughter

Eudora Welty has long been a staple of my Too Sentimental category. I don’t think I’ve read anything of hers since I was in high school, and I don’t even remember what it was. She reappeared on my radar after my fairly recent success with novelists like George Eliot and Willa Cather. I really read very little from female authors. It’s probably because a traditional English degree (or, at least, the one I got) glorifies dead white men. You know, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Lawrence, Joyce, etc, etc. And I’d especially avoided Welty because I remembered her as sickeningly sentimental.

And sentimental, she is. Except she’s not preachy like Paolo Coelho or Milan Kundera, two authors I despise. Reading The Optimist’s Daughter didn’t make me angry; in fact, I really enjoyed it.

The Optimist’s Daughter is about a woman named Laurel who is coping with the death of her father in a tiny Mississippi town. She has to deal with the memories of her mother, who died ten years ago, and of her husband, who died in a war. She also has to handle her father’s new wife, Fay, who has no emotional attachment to anything. Laurel has lived in Chicago for several years, and Fay has taken over her father’s house. She shows blatant disregard for everything in it and bitterness toward her husband’s previous wife.

This novel fits squarely into the family drama category, and it’s certainly worth your time to read. It’s a fairly quick read, and it held my attention all the way through. Welty’s characters are deep: you can’t help but sympathize with Laurel. I’m going to read more Welty in the near future. It’s a pity I’d avoided her for so long.

Bonus: Did you know Eudora Welty was also a photographer? Check out her photos in this article from Smithsonian Magazine.

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