Summary[ edit ] The book begins with the main character, Laurel Hand, who travels to New Orleans from her home in Chicago to assist her aging father as a family friend and doctor operates on his eye. During this time, Laurel begins to get to know her outsider stepmother better, as she rarely visited her father since the two were married. To the distress of all who knew him, the Judge dies after his wife throws a violently emotional fit in the hospital and confesses to cheating and interest in his money. Here, Laurel finds love and friendship in a community which she left after childhood. The woman from Texas, who claimed to have no family other than the Judge, is soon confronted by her past as her mother, siblings, and other members of her family show up to her house to attend the funeral. Though Laurel confronts Fay as to the reason why she lied, she cannot help but feel anything except pity for the lonely, sullen woman.
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Aug 14, Jeffrey Keeten rated it really liked it Recommended to Jeffrey by: On the Southern Literary Trail Shelves: southern "Memory lived not in initial possession but in the freed hands, pardoned and freed, and in the heart that can empty but fill again, in the patterns restored by dreams.
It was written much later than the bulk of the rest of her work. She had, as it turned out, one more little gem left in her pen. I understand because you see we are outsiders in this book. We are missing the beginning and really a lot of the beginning. Conversations are flying around our heads that we have no basis of knowledge to fully understand. The people in this book have known each other their entire lives and their conversations flitter from decade to decade without pausing to fill in the gaps for those of us just visiting.
It was hard to have sympathy for the character Fay McKelva, but it was only after I had finished the book and had pondered on my feelings for a while that I realized how crazy that town was driving this little girl from Madrid, Texas. I always think of myself in these situations as the Antonio Banderas character from the superb movie The thirteenth Warrior. So the key to this book was to keep listening.
Antonio Banderas as Ahmad ibn Fadlan Laurel Hand comes back home to Mississippi to be a support for her father, Judge McKelva, during a minor surgery to correct a torn retina in his eye. His wife, Fay McKelva, younger than his daughter is also there to offer support, but really seems to be more of a hindrance than a help to the recover of her 72 year old husband.
Unexpectedly the Judge takes a turn for the worse and Laurel feels the need to stay at the hospital hoping he will start to get better. The whitened floor, the whitened wall and ceiling, were set with narrow bands of black receding into the distance, along which the spaced-out doors, graduated from large to small, were all closed. One of her fondest memories as a child was listening to her father and mother read to one another.
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. The wife makes all the arraignments. In the words of Fay: "How could the biggest fool think I was going to bury my husband with his old wife?
I felt the heat rise in my neck and the need to say "you have no right", but the fact of the matter is Fay does have the right. Laurel has lost her mother, her husband, and her father. It made me think about the people I have lost. I lost a sister, who died on my birthday. She only breathed for three days. I lost a saintly grandmother who died in such horrific pain that I have never forgiven the religion that she spent so much time nurturing.
I went to see her near the end. She was a husk of her former beauty. A woman that knew I was coming and wanted lipstick for her lips. She always wanted to look her best even after cancer had shrunk her features tight against her skull and had taken her lustrous dark brown hair. She told me I looked like a movie star and how proud she was of me. I will never forget her bony fingers in my hand as fragile as glass.
To say that this book got under my skin might be an understatement. Laurel remembers her husband Phillip and what she remembers is his hands. I can identify with his double-jointed issues see picture below. Phillip had large, good hands, and extraordinary thumbs--double-jointed where they left the palms, nearly at right angles; their long, blunt tips curved strongly back.
When she watched his right hand go about its work, it looked to her like the Hand of his name. One of my Freaky Double-Jointed Thumbs This can be a confusing book, but my advice is to hang in there. Let the language become more familiar as the book advances. We are strangers in a small town in Mississippi. We need time to catch up with what we need to know to even support our end of a conversation. This book may very well haunt you.
Laurel has lost too much too soon in life and she really needed him to come back. He needed to let her read him back to health. The people are telling stories about Judge McKelva at the viewing and Laurel is amazed at how little they seemed to understand about his real accomplishments. We can only hope our children understand and can tell the stories the right way to our grandchildren.
The Optimist's Daughter
Its style is at the service of a story that follows its nose with the instincts of a good hunting dog never losing the scent of its quarry. And its story has all those qualities peculiar to the finest short novels: a theme that vibrates with overtones, suspense and classical inevitability. Known as a "Southern regionalist," Miss Welty is too good for pigeonholing labels. Though she has stayed close to home, two interlocking notions have been demonstrated in her fiction: how easily the ordinary turns into legend, and how firmly the exotic is grounded in the banal.
The Optimist's Daughter