Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Happy Birthday, Flannery

Today would have been the 90th birthday of Flannery O'Connor.  She is among those American writers who have an outsized influence despite not being better known (another is Theodore Drieser, but more about him some other day.) O'Connor only lived 39 years. But, oh, what use she made of those years.   Her novels, The Violent Bear It Away and Wise Blood  are not great.  I still consider them must reading, but they do not among the first rank of American novels. It was in her magnificent short stories that O'Connor found her place among the immortals.  Some of her stories are so good as to sneak up on perfection.  The characters she created to populate those stories are so vivid that they scarcely seem like fiction at all.  Who could ever forget Manley Pointer in Good Country People? What a delicious character with such a perverse name. Think about it: Manley Pointer, the atheist Bible salesman.  You had to be some sort of genius to come up with that.  Pointer had good company with the likes of Tom Shiftlet in The Life You Save May Be Your Own and The Misfit in A Good Man Is Hard To Find.  The common wisdom about O'Connor was that she was expressing her Catholic faith in her writings. I was never persuaded of that. It seemed to me that O'Connor was like one of her own characters: she was fascinated by vulgar, the violent, and the explicit.  Though she tried to show had bad these people were, I submit that there was some part of their lifestyle that stimulated her.  Regardless of how she came to write her wonderful stories, lets be ever so grateful she did.

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