By Eudora Welty
The Optimist's Daughter focuses on Laurel McKelva, a young widow, who returns to New Orleans to see her father, before he passes away from complications of an eye surgery. It then describes her dealing with the death and the tensions between her and young step-mother, as well as her with other small community members, who have their own agenda.
I was slightly reminded of Who's Afraid of Virgina Woolf? when reading this. It comes nowhere as close to being as biting and acidic as that classic, but each character, even minor ones, have their own distinct (irrational) personality and the conflicts due to these difference comes across in dialogue.
"I couldn't save him." He laid a hand on the sleeve of each woman, standing between them. He bent his head, but that did not hide the aggrivement, indignation, that was in his voice. "He's gone, and his eye was healing."The above passage gives an example of the level of distinctness of all three personalities: Fay (the step-mother), impetuous and entitled, the Doctor, rather emotionally clueless in responding to an unexpected death (caring more about how the eyesight would have turned out rather than the two members affected by the death) and Laurel, quietly reflecting and absorbing.
"Are you trying to tell me you let my husband die?" Fay cried.
"He collapsed." Fatigue had pouched the doctor's face, his cheeks hung gray. He kept his touch on their arms.
"You picked my birthday to do it on!" Fay screamed out, just as Mrs. Martello came out of the room. She closed the door behind her. She was carrying a hamper. She pretended not to see them as she drummed past on her heels.
Laurel felt the Doctor's hand shift to grip her arm; she had been about to go straight to the unattended. He began walking the two women toward the elevators. Laurel became aware that he was in evening clothes.
At the elevator he got in with them, still standing between them. "Maybe we asked too much of him," he said grudgingly. "And yet he didn't have to hold out much longer." He looked protestingly at the lighted floors flashing by. "I'd been waiting to know how well that eye would see!"
I would not be surprised if this novel is commonly taught in classrooms and dissected, since there's a lot of details to think on, (the first of which that I would bring up being the unusual title.)