I just finished my third Pulitzer in April which is a great rebound from taking the entire month of March off. Eudora Welty’s winner The Optimist’s Daughter was a terrific unassuming little book. Welty can really write a sentence. She chose a very narrow story with which to use to bring a lot of things out. She achieves a lot in this very brief novel, not everything but a lot of things. She writes with precision, brilliant precision. She has startling clarity of purpose in every image she chooses. Her laborious use of everything she introduces reminds me of another Pulitzer winner Cunningham and Wharton. Welty is a phenomenal writer who I hope is remembered.
One thing that limits her is her setting, the Deep South, which I think she commands every aspect of but her writing of it makes it seem like, as an oft-quoted joke between Drew and I, a regional novel. A slight caveat, southern gothic is my favorite form of American fiction- so that comment is not to say that I felt put off by her setting, by no means. I just found that the way Welty paints the south extends some of the elitism that can be very pervasive in certain places. I recently met an individual from near Nashville, TN that had not traveled to northern Illinois before and he comment on Midwesterns complete lack of regional pride that he had experienced in the south.
Welty also writes very well from the female perspective. I say this as a male who has written an extended work from a female character’s perspective- that imagining things and speaking truly from a certain perspective is one of the most challenging things to achieve in great writing. Given Welty is a woman, she writes excellently embodying her world well. There were several times in the novel that I thought were brilliantly inside the person she has created for us in Laurel McKelva. The breadboard at the end of the novel I thought was a perfect, if at a moment a bit trivial, image for her to use for us to be completely enveloped in her characters. I wished that some of her chief conflicted were more directly addressed but I have never seen a writer give us a character explain her own limitations and write perfectly as the character would understand them with all of the character’s foibles. On a side note, Fay and the Chisoms are to-date the least likable characters I have encountered on the Pulitzer journey thus far.
After this novel, I have no clear direction for my next read- so we will see where April will bring me. Stay tuned.