Friday, December 21, 2007

The Optimist's Daughter by Eudora Welty

Judge McKelva - A kindly old judge whose surgury for a detatched retina goes wrong
Laural McKelva - The kindly judge's daughter, in town to support her sickly father
Wanda Fay - Judge McKelva's boorish second wife

This is pretty much the entire cast of The Optimist's Daughter. I purchased this book at a library book sale for a quarter, partly because I'd heard of Eudora Welty and partly because this book won the Pulitzer Prize.

Well, on one level, it's not too difficult to see why The Optimist's Daughter appealed to the Pulitzer committee: It's got both death and self-discovery, some regional humor and commentary, and a slow-moving plo that probably has a lot going on beneath the surface. The prose is prety without being overwrought, and the first part of the book, while Judge McKelva is recovering from surgury for a detatched retina, moves along at a nice clip, and fosters a fine sense of dread. The downside is that, once the Judge dies, the narrative movement in the book halts almost completely. Although the entire novel is only about 120 pages long, the last 60 pages moved at a crawl as either a) Fay does somehing cruel and thoughtless and Laural reacts to it by running off to be by herself or b) Laural has some personal revelation that never packs the power we sense it should.

I'll be honest, I may have gone into the book with the wrong expectations, but I read through waiting for a revelation that never happened, following characters I didn't care much about. There were a couple spots where the writing was powerful enough to make up for it, but for the most part, The Optimist's Daughter was too lethargically paced for me. It's not a bad book, but I don't think it's for me.

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