The Optimist’s Daughter

“I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter, is a beautifully written short novel about a woman dealing with the death of her father. It won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. I’ve had it on my TBR list for a long time, but ran across the audio book version in the library last week, and when I saw that it was read by Eudora Welty herself, I decided it was a must — right now.

As I listened, I felt completely transported to Mississippi, immersed in the life of the story and mesmerized by her voice. It’s a story that touches the heart and reveals universal truths about love and loss and memory. Eudora Welty was an artist at the highest level possible when she wrote this book. She filled her canvas with character and color and sense of place, and created a work of beauty that took my breath away with the perfection of her words and sentences.

When Laurel was a child, in this room and in this bed where she lay now, she closed her eyes like this and the rhythmic, nighttime sound of the two beloved reading voices came rising in turn up the stairs every night to reach her. She could hardly fall asleep, she tried to keep awake, for pleasure. She cared for her own books, but she cared more for theirs, which meant their voices. In the lateness of the night, their two voices reading to each other where she could hear them, never letting a silence divide or interrupt them, combined into one unceasing voice and wrapped her around as she listened, as still as if she were asleep. She was sent to sleep under a velvety cloak of words, richly patterned and stitched with gold, straight out of a fairy tale, while they went reading on into her dreams.

Although Michelle’s Book Awards Challenge II doesn’t officially start until the end of the week, and I didn’t have this book in mind when I signed up, I’d like to count it as my first read for this Challenge because it’s a perfect beginning for what looks to be a very enjoyable reading experience.

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10 thoughts on “The Optimist’s Daughter

  1. Jessica

    Oh!! Thank you for this review. I love Pulitzer prize-winning books, and this one has caught my eye several times. I might have to substitute this one in for the Book Awards II Challenge.

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  2. Bookfool

    I keep putting this one off, but I’ll get to it, some day. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed it. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to be literally transported to Mississippi, right now — listening to Eudora sounds just about right. She was quite the local celebrity, actually. When we first moved here, I’d never heard of Eudora Welty and saw her on the Jackson news. So, I looked her up. What a fascinating woman! I actually like her photography better than her fiction, so far, but she was amazing.

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  3. Robin

    Jessica, you might enjoy listening to her read the story, if you can find a copy of the audio book. She’s such a wonderful author, and it was fun to listen to her read her own work.

    Hi Nancy, I know it’s been soooo hot (and humid?) there! This has been one of the mildest summers in years and years here, so it adds insult to injury to be “transported” to Mississippi when the weather outside here is just barely 70 degrees! I’ve actually worn a sweatshirt a couple of days in the last week! Very unusual! Sorry!

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  4. Sarah

    I’ve heard of this but was not especially interested until I read your review and that lovely quote.
    I will have to read it pronto.

    I’m not keen on audiobooks, but one read by the author just might change my mind.

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  5. Robin

    Thanks, Nymeth! I’ve got to read more Eudora Welty!

    Hi Sarah. She’s such a beautiful writer, and even though this is a short book, it’s a powerful story.
    I’ve become quite addicted to audio books because it really extends the number of books I can read. The trick is to find the right kinds of books/stories to listen to, and ones read by the author are high on my list.

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  6. Danielle

    I’ve always meant to read Eudora Welty–I really must pick this one up. I’m not sure why, but I tend not to read much Southern Lit, but when I do, I always enjoy it.

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  7. Robin

    Danielle, I think you would love her writing, it’s so beautifully done. I haven’t read much Southern literature, either, but she is not to be missed.

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  8. Nan

    I went over to the shelf and of the 8 books I own by Eudora, I don't have this one. :<( I'll have to get it. I just had a disappointing EW read, which you may have seen. If you've read The Ponder Heart, I'd like to know what you thought of it.

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  9. Robin

    That’s interesting about The Ponder Heart, Nan. I’ve only read two of her books, but loved both of them (the other one was One Writer’s Beginnings.) I’ll have to read it and see what I think.

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