Joy on Brad on Flannery
The lead review in this week’s New York Times Sunday Book Review is by the under-rated and under-read novelist and story writer Joy Williams.
It’s of the new biography of Flannery O’Connor, by Brad Gooch (a book I’ll be reviewing in the print edition of Commonweal).
Williams stresses O’Connor’s oddness — and indicates that Gooch errs by attempting to normalize his subject.
It’s a clever review: a series of statements, really, rather than an argument, allowing the reader to piece together his or her own opinion of Miss Flannery.
But when you string together that many statements, some inevitably succumb to their own brand of oddity.
Two I noticed:
1) “In her avid reading, she found Protestant theologians superior to Catholic ones, though she was pleased to discover Teilhard de Chardin.”
I’m not sure where that’s coming from. True, O’Connor appreciated the work of Tillich and Niebuhr and other Protestant theologians, and, sure, O’Connor was never shy about criticizing elements of the Catholic Church; there are always tart remarks to be found in her letters and essays.
But over and above Teilhard she had a serious and sustained engagement with Cathbolic theologians like Karl Adam, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Romano Guardini. (Of course, only Thomas Aquinas could grace her bedside table.)
2) “One should pretty much ignore her own pronouncements on her art, though in her last years she increasingly endeavored to explain her intentions.”
Really? The talks and essays collected in Mystery and Manners have been pretty well received over the years. I find the few “pronouncements on her art” either self-deprecatingly funny or…fairly insightful. Like the one where she defends the Misfit from being deemed evil incarnate.
“I don’t want to equate the Misfit with the devil. I prefer to think, however unlikely this may seem, the old lady’s gesture, like the mustard-seed, will grow to be a great crow-filled tree in the Misfit’s heart, and will be enough of a pain to him there to turn him into the prophet he was meant to become. But that’s another story.”
Not bad for such an odd lady.