When asked why she wrote, Flannery O'Connor famously answered, Because I'm good at it. I love the boldness of this answer -- no apologies, no self-deprecating bullshit. It ain't bragging, as one of my friends says, if you can do it. And she could. Seldom do I pick up a story of hers without seeing something new and brilliant. A comic genius, there's something totally awful, funny, and modern about a man who steals body parts for no reason -- I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die . . . Of course, her world view would have to take a dark comic edge -- the bleakness of her physical condition (a body ravaged by lupus) and the knowledge she would die young made her one tough customer. It allowed her to write one of my favorite stories, "Parker's Back" about a man who gets a tattoo of Jesus on his entire back to please his wife who is horrified by the representation that he will carry around for the rest of his days. How can one laugh about lines that allude to not trusting artists, about how they are always wanting to get into your business and whatnot. Not that I'm guilty of this, of course!
The biggest sin in O'Connor's world is pride. People are brought low by the distance of what they believe about themselves and what is proven under pressure to be true. Her refusal of any kind of middle ground, her characters drawn from the depths of despair, poverty, and pettiness, an attachment to a violent outcome -- these were her trademarks. A practicing Catholic in the mostly Protestant south, she once remarked on the act of transubstantiation possibly being symbolic, If it isn't the body and blood of Christ, then to hell with it. Her fiction is as real as it gets, a world of broken people struggling for redemption or against it. No middle ground. I can imagine her at her desk with her farm of peacocks making their horrible noises as she wrote. Some people think they are manifestations of God, while others think it's bad luck to bring one of their feathers in the house. For her, they were both and I'm guessing that she could not separate their beauty from the pain.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"God and the Devil were very far away. I used to pray, but now I seldom do. Still, I knelt at the open window, looking and wondering." Jean Rhys
Drinking short story suggestion: "Feathers" Raymond Carver
Benedictions and Maledictions
Happy Sunday! And happy birthday to Ms. Flannery O'Conner!
14 days until The Sopranos airs!