Friday, March 13, 2009

Finally: A biography of Flannery O'Connor

There was Paul Elie's partial biography of Flannery O'Connor (The Life you Save May be Your Own, named after one of her short stories)—partial because it was one of four writer's lives treated, including Walker Percy, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton--but beyond that there have only been literary analysis of her work. We're not complaining, mind you, but Allan Barra at Solon has a point that there has been precious little biographical treatment of O'Connor given the influence she has had on 20th century literature.

Barra points out the other irony in his review of Brad Gooch's Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, which is that O'Connor should be so influential given that fact that she wrote so little, having died when she was only 34. She wrote precisely two novels and two books of short stories. They are still widely available, in several additions:
More than any other American fiction writer of her time, her influence has gone beyond literature to the realm of American popular culture. Tommy Lee Jones, who wrote his college thesis on O'Connor, seemed to be directing under her spell in his film "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada." Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen have both recorded albums that sound like background music to her world; Springsteen admitted he wrote and recorded his album "Nebraska" while reading O'Connor.
I haven't read all of her short stories yet, but her second novel, The Violent Bear it Away, has to be the greatest commentary on the dis-integration of the modern psyche ever written. Ironically, it was a book she was disatisfied with. I asked Wendell Berry one time if he had read it, and he said he hadn't. I mentioned that it was pretty stark. He said, "Yeah, she hits you with both crutches."


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