Chapter 3: “The Optimist’s Daughter” by Eudora Welty (1973)

“The mystery in how little we know of other people is no greater than the mystery of how much, Laurel thought.”

10580041_731071823631679_5448001905069456302_nIt has been six days since I last posted anything and, in all honesty, I don’t have much of an excuse for it. Everyday, I have been confronted with crises that, in the long run, won’t prove to be as critical as they now seem. Over the next few days, while reading my next Pulitzer, I will do my best to fill you all in on the goings on in my life. In the meantime, however, I have some thoughts about the most recent Pulitzer I’ve finished, The Optimist’s Daughter, by Eudora Welty.

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This book was a very short 180 pages and read very quickly, but for the life of me, I had the most difficult time forcing myself to actually sit down and finish it. To be entirely forthcoming, I could have easily finished this book in one sitting—probably in two or three hours. Instead, however, it took me almost a full week to work my way through it. Finally, after dreading a return to its pages, I sat down tonight and finished it, once again, only to be left feeling empty and dissatisfied.

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My biggest complaint about this book is that, in all honesty, I really didn’t see the point of it. There was no central conflict, no rising action, and very little character development. I felt that Welty glossed over things that she could have really gone into great detail about (the main character’s personality, thoughts and life story, for instance). I read through 180 pages of drivel and pure blibber-blab, a constant overuse of similes, and one of the more lackluster resolutions I’ve read in quite some time. When I read the final paragraph of the book, I actually found myself wanting to read more because I just couldn’t imagine the book actually ending the way it did.

Allow me to offer some cliff notes for the novel for you: The main character’s father dies, so she and her sociopath stepmother host a funeral in his hometown, some people come to it and sing his praises, and after the funeral, the main character spends some time going through some things around the old house she was raised in and finds letters her father wrote to her mother (though we never get to read what they said), some letters her grandmother wrote to her mother (though we never get to read what they said), and finding these things makes the main character very sad. At the end of the novel, she gets very upset with her sociopath stepmother and they have a confrontation that lasts for a few paragraphs, then the main character goes home. In all sincerity, that’s really all that happens.

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I was beyond discouraged when I finished the book and didn’t find myself pondering what a fantastic novel this Eudora Welty wrote; I didn’t lay the book on my nightstand and stare at the ceiling and let her words run its course through my veins. Instead, I put the book back in my pile and wondered “How in the hell did this book win a Pulitzer Prize?”

Now, all of that being said, there were some things about the book that I did appreciate—just like Coldplay sings, “everything’s not lost.”

For one thing, Welty is a gorgeous writer. Regardless of how much I felt this book was filled with nonsense, it was very eloquent nonsense. Like I said before, she is very guilty of going a little overboard with her similes, but some of them were so well constructed that I had to sit back and marvel—it’s very apparent that Welty is capable of being an amazing writer, so why didn’t I get that from this particular book?

The other thing that I thought Welty captured really well was her portrayal of the main character’s despondency throughout her father’s sickness, death, funeral and the several days thereafter. Despite her being the protagonist, Laurel has very few lines because Welty has her so lost in her own thoughts—an all too common occurrence during hard times. There were several scenes where, as a reader, I was really wanting Laurel to confront somebody—particularly her insane stepmother. Instead, she internalizes her misery, her anger, her sadness and disassociates.

Being very much the same way when it comes to conflict, I suppose I saw myself in Laurel a bit.

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