At the last Talk About Books in November, we each presented a book we had read recently. One of the the books was a new memoir about Harper Lee, The Mockingbird Next Door by Marja Mills. We were all familiar with Lee's well-loved Pulitzer Prize winner, To Kill a Mockingbird, so we decided to follow Harper Lee's advice and try one of her favorite authors, Eudora Welty. Both Welty and Lee grew up in the South ( Mississippi and Alabama) and both remained true to their roots all their lives.
We chose The Optimist's Daughter. It won a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and is considered by many to be her best book. It is the story of Laurel McKelva Hand, a young woman who has left the South and returns, years later, to New Orleans, to take care of her father, Judge McKelva, who is dying. After his death, she and her immature young stepmother go back still farther, to the small Mississippi town where she grew up. Alone in the the old house, Laurel finally comes to an understanding of the past, herself, and her parents.
In his New York Times Book Review, May 21, 1972, Howard Moss praised The Optimist's
Daughter as "a miracle of compression, the kind of book, small in scope
but profound in its
implications, that rewards a lifetime of work. 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."