Flannery O’Connor: In Celebration Of Genius, edited by Sarah Gordon
Unlike most of the likely readers of this book, I am not (yet) deeply familiar with the writing of Flannery O’Connor. To be sure, I have read a fair amount about her, especially as she is a writer who comes up often in recommendations for literature by those who have either a Catholic or a Southern background, both of which are familiar to me. And there is no question that the life of the subject of this work is worthy of being remembered–she is noted most often for her short fiction and she died young and was unable to write in the prolific manner that others do, and besides all of this she is certainly a writer with a great deal of quirkiness and a fair amount of irony in her approach. All of this makes her easy for someone like me to appreciate her, even if from what I am aware she populated her novels with some pretty unpleasant people and was known to be a somewhat sour person herself, although admittedly having had a beloved father suffer with lupus and then suffering from it herself for many years before her death likely did not inspire the sort of easygoing feelings that some writers have.
This particular book is a short one, consisting of twenty selections that take up a bit more than 100 pages in total. As is common in this sort of festschrift, this book is a bit of a mixed bag. Some of the shorter selections are poems written in honor of O’Connor, which are pretty enjoyable and thoughtful poems. Many of the poems show a sense of profound respect but some ambivalence about the writer, some of them show the personal acquaintance they had or the missed opportunities they had for knowing the author better. One of the worse selections, from a leftist activist who calls herself Guerrilla Girl Alma Thomas, there is a speculation that the author would have relished transgressive attitudes and a realization that the author’s openness was in direct contradiction to the essayist’s deliberately dishonest approach. At least one of the selections is an essay that reminds one of the sort of dark fiction about somewhat unpleasant people that O’Connor herself may have written. The result is a book that does not take long to read and often looks at the same few stories over and over again (like “A Good Man Is Hard To Find”) but that is generally enjoyable at least.
Will you enjoy this book? Maybe. As someone who likes reading about other authors, even those whose oeuvres are obscure to me, there was much for me to enjoy here, and I could see myself participating in this sort of exercise with authors I am more familiar with and whose work has helped to inspire and shape my own writing. That said, O’Connor is most known today as a writer of Southern regional fiction as well as being a writer of profoundly Catholic religious identity, and if you are interested in either of those you will in general be more likely to enjoy this book. Likewise, if this book and the approach of the essayists and their comments about Flannery O’Connor strike you as interesting and worthwhile, then there is likely little more that could be done to further one’s interest in this sort of material than to take the step of reading what O’Connor has to say for yourself, which is something that I am likely to get around to at some point. After all, there is little of worth in reading about an author without reading the author’s own unmediated text for oneself.