Joy Williams, in the New York Times, February 26, 2009 reviews “The Life of Flannery O’Connor,” by Brad Gooch. Not having read Gooch’s biography, I don’t know his observations and conclusions but through Williams’ review. Williams’ review is a fascinating description of an eccentric Flannery O’Connor. Undoubtedly, she was a weird chick. While there is an inseparable and interesting connection between an author’s life and her writing, I do not think we should judge the merits of the writing based upon the flaws in the author’s character. It is possible that Williams’ and /or Gooch comes close to doing so.

    Flannery O’Connor was a master at exposing human nature for what it truly is in its fallen state. While some readers stumble to find redemption and grace amid her despicable characters’ twisted lives some of the rest of us readers believe that an honest presentation of the total depravity of humanity is the most necessary black backdrop for the light of the gospel.

    If you are reading Flannery O’Connor for “light, enjoyable reading,” then, I think, you will be disappointed, unless you are morbid in your recreational tastes. O’Connor wrote carefully, painstakingly choosing words, turning phrases, rewriting scenes, laboring to write while in intense physical pain. She regularly referred to her writings in progress as her “Opus Nauseous.” If you as the reader took equal care, you would discover crafted sentences presenting grace and redemption, hints to the gospel.

    Flannery O’Connor consistently presents characters who appear to be morally upright, in settings which would be largely considered to be typically American settings, then shows these characters and settings to be as saturated with the common curse as more exotic settings and the monsters we have imagined. Through this method she moves many of us readers to consider our personal need for the gospel of grace. Perhaps we have too high an opinion of ourselves and have not faced the truly despicable condition of our lives. Some of O’Connor’s friends insisted that in most of her stories, Flannery was writing about her mother. She often cameos a self-righteous, older woman with a hard heart and so it is altogether possible and perhaps, inescapable for Flannery. When one of her friends confronted her about writing often about her mother, Flannery said, “She don’t read any of it.” I think that Flannery chooses an older, white, southern woman often to be the self-righteous, heard-hearted character, because she knows that most of us, when we see an older woman, see our tender grandmothers, a symbol of grace, wisdom, and big hearts.

    Gooch, apparently, saw a film clip of Flannery at 5 years old teaching a chicken to walk backwards and toward the conclusion of his biography uses this as a metaphor for her writing: “literary chickens walking backward,” and as Williams adds, “against the grain, comic, tragic, queer, unnatural.”

    If Flannery O’Connor was as flawed as Gooch and Williams report (and undoubtedly, their presentation comes close to the reality), then not only her fictitious characters, but her own self become the black backdrop for the glorious light of the gospel.

 


Comments


Comments are closed.