The Optimist’s Daughter won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1972. The optimist, Judge McKelva, is having a problem with one of his eyes. He travels to New Orleans with his new wife, Fay, a self-centered shrew, much younger than himself. His daughter, Laurel, comes to meet them there from her home in Chicago.
The two women do not get along, although Laurel does her best to keep things on an even keel for the sake of her father. The operation seems to have gone well, but after a few weeks of recuperation in the hospital, the Judge is still not well. Fay, being bored and feeling hard done by, goes to him and shakes him trying to get him to snap out of it. He dies immediately after.
The two women have to deal with the funeral back in their hometown of Mount Salus, Mississippi, and the house is filled with friend and relative of Laurel to the disgust of the younger Fay. But then, the mother, sister, brother and a number of young nieces and nephews appear from Fay’s hometown in Texas, much to the surprise of Laurel, as Fay had told her her family was all dead.
The Texas branch of the family, seeing the spacious house that Fay will inherit make noises about living there with her, so upon their departure, she leaves with them, to ensure that they do not move in with her.
That leaves Laurel two days to roam around the empty house, collecting and recollecting memories, not only of her dead mother and father, but of her husband who was killed in the war and the reader is privy to her remembrances. She comes to the conclusion that Fay an she will never have a common ground on which to meet, and she leaves for Chicago with a peaceful heart.
Frankly, Laurel is a better person than I. I would have poisoned that woman’s soup.