Reading a Flannery O’Connor story is like getting a karate chop in the tits. I know that is foul, immature, and shocking, but it’s true. Imagine yourself, driving in your car, raking leaves, throwing out trash, or perhaps you’re at work doing work things and then—WHAM! Karate chop in the tits! Out of nowhere, for no reason. That’s what reading a Flannery O’Connor story is like. Just like that.
I believe Flannery meant to make her readers uncomfortable.
She was uncomfortable.
Instead of writing for her generation, she wrote about her generation.
I discovered Flannery from KC. After reading my mangled thesis, he seemed (to me) understandably confused. To him, my shorter work was stronger, and he compared it to Flannery and Carver. I knew Carver, one can’t get through an MFA class without knowing that guy, but who was this Flannery?
After reading her complete collection, I am humbled by KC’s compliment.
What I saw in her work was how she experimented with characters, how they twisted and changed from story to story. How old men became young boys and how much the point of view changes a story. I saw all the tendrils of humanity evenly distributed between characters, with ignorance and egotism reigning supreme.
I saw that humanity frustrated Flannery because she was a part of it. It’s clear on the page that she saw herself in others. When she wrote these stories, she became old, young, male, female, black, white, rich, and poor. She understood that those who could not imagine themselves any other way but the way they were born taught, bred, and spread discrimination.
The more I studied her stories, the more I sensed something else: Flannery was dying.
And she was mad about it.
And she didn’t understand why socially backward fools got to outlive her.
And this made her feel guilty.
As soon as I figured this out, I read the introduction* by Robert Giroux, and then I dashed off E-mail to EH. Here is some of the conversation, reprinted with EH’s permission (I intended the E-mail font to be in American typewriter, but contain your squeals of joy because there is no American typewriter font in wordpress):
It was one of those days, all sunny and warm, and the birds were chirping, and the water was glistening, well you get it, and I kept thinking to myself, and to Flannery, what does that feel like to know you are dying, really dying? I wasn’t trying to be romantic, I was just trying to figure out how that would be, to live like that.
And this came to me, which, really isn’t new or anything, but I started to understand about the great writers of that generation- they lived through these horrible wars, and this horrible devastation, and that is why their literature is so bleak and sad and real and honest; they thought they were dying, but us, our generation, our story, in my mind anyway, is about hope and love and courage and change. Yes, we are honest and we are real, but we don’t know that violence, so our stories have to be a symbol of hope.
And it occurred to me, via you and Flannery, that there are two types of people in the world, those who know they are dying and just accept it and those who fight it.
I’d forgotten that Flannery died young (39). [Your observation] certainly puts her sense of fatalism and the grotesque in a new light. Lupus really, really fucks you up – your own body attacks you without warning and you’re trapped within it, unable to fight back, and she watched her father die from it, so she knew exactly what she was in for.
I think we should call any emotions connected to Flannery “Flannerfeels.” Like, “This is giving me a lot of Flannerfeels right now.”
– – – – – End Communication – – – – –
You can read “A Good Man Is Hard To Find,” here. And see if it gives you “FLANNERFEELS.”
You can also read about Lupus here.
And then you can read “A Girl And A Goat,” my story that was published this week at Sleet Magazine here. This story isn’t about social justice. It’s about Poland. And a goat. I identify most closely to the fat sweaty man at the market. If you see any connection between me and Flannery, let me know.
I’m officially dedicating “Girl And A Goat” –my first published short story— to Maggie Bak, MB, for her 30th birthday. Sto lat! Sorry I’m the type of friend who tries to karate chop you in the tits.
Thank you Flannery for teaching me how to write about social justice in a way that makes it all a little less sad. Someday there will be a cure not only for Lupus, but for and racism, sexism, classism, and all other ‘isms.’
“The birds had gone into the deep woods to escape the noon sun and one thrush, hidden some distance ahead of him, called the same four notes again and again, stopping each time after them to make a silence.” –Flannery O’Connor, “You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead”
Maybe I do see the connection. We both listened to the call of the thrush.
Sorry this post started to sound like an acknowledgements page at the end. For those of you who don’t have tits—
Swift kick in the balls!
I wouldn’t want to leave anyone out.
*I often save the introduction for last so my opinions of the work won’t be tainted.