The Optimist's DaughterLarge Print - 1990
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But the guilt of outliving those you love is justly to be borne, she thought. Outliving is something we do to them. The fantasies of dying could be no stranger than the fantasies of living. Surviving is perhaps the strangest fantasy of them all.
It is memory that is the somnambulist. It will come back in its wounds from across the world, like Phil, calling us by our names and demanding its rightful tears. It will never be impervious. The memory can be hurt, time and again -- but in that may lie its final mercy. As long as it's vulnerable to the living moment, it lives for us, and while it lives, and while we are able, we can give it up its due.
What burdens we lay on the dying, Laurel thought, as she listened now to the accelerated rain on the roof: seeking to prove some little thing that we can keep to comfort us when they can no longer feel--something as incapable of being kept as of being proved: the lastingness of memory, vigilance against harm, self-reliance, good hope, trust in one another.
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Laurel McKelva Hand returns to the south from Chicago to accompany her father, Judge Clinton McKelva and his new wife Fay as he enters an operation for his eyes. The judge dies while in hospital, and Laurel is left to contend with Fay, who invents lies about herself at every turn to evade her past life growing up in a trailer in Texas, with the judge's old friends, and with the previous deaths of her mother and her husband.