Sunday, February 04, 2007

In Search of Flannery O'Connor.

Today's New York Times includes an intriguing piece entitled "In Search of Flannery O'Connor," offering an account of NYT writer Lawrence Downes' visit to O'Connor's hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia. Visiting sites associated with O'Connor's life, Downes seeks to better understand a quiet Southern woman who died at 39 and in death won recognition as one of the greatest American Catholic writers of the 20th century. Here's how Downes explains O'Connor's appeal:

O'Connor's short stories and novels are set in a rural South where people know their places, mind their manners and do horrible things to one another. It's a place that somehow hovers outside of time, where both the New Deal and the New Testament feel like recent history. It's soaked in violence and humor, in sin and in God. He may have fled the modern world, but in O'Connor's he sticks around, in the sun hanging over the tree line, in the trees and farm beasts, and in the characters who roost in the memory like gargoyles. It's a land haunted by Christ - not your friendly hug-me Jesus, but a ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of the mind, pursuing the unwilling.

Many people - me for instance - are in turn haunted by O'Connor. Her doctrinally strict, mordantly funny stories and novels are as close to perfect as writing gets. Her language is so spare and efficient, her images and character's speech so vivid, they burn into the mind. Her strange Southern landscape was one I knew viscerally but, until this trip, had never set foot in. I had wondered how her fictional terrain and characters, so bizarre yet so blindingly real, might compare with the real places and people she lived among and wrote about.
I regret to say that I've never read anything by Flannery O'Connor, though I've been aware of her since I was in college and numerous people have recommended that I read her work. In my room I have two of O'Connor books (The Complete Stories and The Habit of Being, a collection of her letters) waiting to be read, and with their aid I hope soon to remedy a grave deficiency in my education. Reading Downes' account of his visit to Milledgeville also makes me want to see O'Connor's hometown for myself. God willing, perhaps I'll do that some day too. AMDG.


Post a Comment

<< Home