email page print pageAll Topic Reviews
"Are You There Alone?""How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses?""My Madness Saved Me"10% Happier365 Days49 Up56 UpA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Beautiful MindA Book of ReasonsA Can of MadnessA Child's Life and Other StoriesA Dangerous LiaisonA Fight to BeA First-Rate MadnessA Good Enough DaughterA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Lethal InheritanceA Lethal InheritanceA Life ShakenA Life Worth LivingA Little PregnantA Message from JakieA Million Little PiecesA Numerate LifeA Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth CenturyA Slant of SunA Special EducationA Tribe ApartAbout FaceAddicted Like MeADHD & MeAEIOUAgainst Medical AdviceAgents in My BrainAileen - Life and Death of a Serial KillerAlgernon, Charlie and IAll Out!All Seasons PassAlphavilleAlways Too Much And Never EnoughAlzheimer'sAn Anthropologist on MarsAn EducationAn Unquiet MindAngela's AshesAngelheadAnna Freud: A BiographyAnnie's GhostsAnother Bullshit Night in Suck CityAnthology of a Crazy LadyApples and OrangesApproaching NeverlandAre You There, Vodka? It's Me, ChelseaAs I Live and BreatheAs Nature Made HimAt Home in the Heart of AppalachiaAt the End of WordsAvalancheBad BoyBad GirlBeautiful BodiesBeautiful BoyBeautiful WreckBecause We Are BadBecoming AnnaBecoming MyselfBen Behind His VoicesBequest and BetrayalBereftBertrand RussellBlackoutBlanketsBloodlettingBodies in Motion and at RestBoneBorn on a Blue DayBoyBoy AloneBoyleBrain on FireBreaking ApartBreaking the SilenceBrokenBulimics on BulimiaBuzzCamus and SartreCharles DarwinChasing the HighCheeverCherryCity of OneCluesClumsyComfortComplications Compulsive ActsConfessions of a Cereal EaterConfessions of a Former ChildConfessions of a Grieving ChristianConfessions of the Other MotherConfidingConquering the Beast WithinContesting ChildhoodCrackedCrazyCry Depression, Celebrate RecoveryDamned to EternityDancing at the Shame PromDante's CureDaughter of the Queen of ShebaDavid Sedaris Live at Carnegie HallDays With My FatherDefeating the VoicesDementia Caregivers Share Their StoriesDepression and NarrativeDescartesDetourDevil in the DetailsDiagnosis: SchizophreniaDirty DetailsDirty SecretDivided MindsDivine MadnessDon't Get Too ComfortableDown Came the RainDress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDrinkingDriving My FatherDrunkardDryEarly Embraces IIIEarly ExposuresEinsteinEinstein and OppenheimerElectroboyElegy for IrisElijah's CupElliott Smith and the Big NothingElsewhereEnough About YouEpilepticEvery Girl Tells a StoryEverything In Its PlaceExamined LivesExiting NirvanaFaces of Huntington'sFamily BoundFast GirlFearless ConfessionsFind MeFinding Iris ChangFirst Person Accounts of Mental Illness and RecoveryFirst Person PluralFixing My GazeFlanneryFolie a DeuxFor the Love of ItFortress of My YouthFrank Ramsey (1903-1930)Franz KafkaFraudFree RefillsFreudFreudFreudFriedrich NietzscheFrom Joy Division to New OrderFumblingFun HomeFuriously HappyGalileo Get Me Out of HereGetting OffGirl in Need of a TourniquetGirl Walking BackwardsGirl, InterruptedGirl, InterruptedGirls on the VergeGoing BlindGoing Through Hell Without Help From AboveGraysonGrowing Up JungGuttedHalf a Brain Is EnoughHardcore from the HeartHead CasesHeal & ForgiveHeal & Forgive IIHeavier than HeavenHeinz KohutHeinz KohutHello from Heaven!Hello to All ThatHer HusbandHer Last DeathHigh PriceHole in My LifeHolidays On IceHolidays on IceHope's BoyHouse of Happy EndingsHouse of Happy EndingsHow I Stayed Alive When My Brain Was Trying to Kill MeHow to Lose Friends & Alienate PeopleHow to Make Love Like a Porn Starhow to stop timeHumeHunger Makes Me a Modern GirlHurry Down SunshineI Am Dynamite!I Am I Am I AmI Feel Bad About My NeckI Never Promised You a Rose GardenI Remain in DarknessI'd Rather Eat ChocolateI'd Rather LaughIf I Die Before I WakeImagining RobertIn Search of FatimaIn the Realms of the UnrealIn the Wake of SuicideInside TherapyInternInvisible No MoreIt Happened to NancyIt Takes a Worried ManJack Cole and Plastic ManJean-Paul SartreJohn Stuart MillJourneys with the Black DogJust CheckingKafkaKantLa SierraLab GirlLast Flight OutLearning to FallLet Me Make It GoodLife As We Know ItLife InterruptedLife ReimaginedLimboLincoln's MelancholyListening in the Silence, Seeing in the DarkLittle PeopleLive For Your Listening PleasureLive Through ThisLiving in the Shadow of the Freud FamilyLiving With SchizophreniaLiving with SchizophreniaLockeLonelyLong ShotLook Me in the EyeLooking for The StrangerLoose GirlLosing Mum and PupLosing My MindLove Is a Mix TapeLove SickLove Times ThreeLove Works Like ThisLove You, Mean ItLuckyLudwig WittgensteinLyingMad HouseMad PrideMadame ProustMadnessMagical ThinkingMalignant SadnessManicMarcel ProustMarcus AureliusMary BarnesMaverick MindMaybe You Should Talk to SomeoneMe Talk Pretty One DayMeaningMelanie KleinMemoirMemoirs of an Addicted BrainMemoirs of My Nervous IllnessMen-ipulationMisconceptionsMiss American PieMockingbird YearsMomma and the Meaning of LifeMommies Who DrinkMonkey MindMore, Now, AgainMortificationMy Age of AnxietyMy Body PoliticMy Brain Tumour AdventuresMy DepressionMy Father's HeartMy First Cousin Once RemovedMy Flesh and BloodMy Horizontal LifeMy Life Among the Serial KillersMy Sister LifeMy Stroke of InsightName All the AnimalsNeural MisfireNietzscheNietzsche: The Man and His PhilosophyNinety DaysNo Apparent DistressNo Hurry to Get HomeNo Impact ManNo More ShavesNo One Cares About Crazy PeopleNolaNotebooks 1951-1959NothingOdd Girl Speaks OutOedipus WreckedOf Spirits & MadnessOn Being RapedOn the Edge of DarknessOn the MoveOne Hour in ParisOne Hundred DaysOphelia SpeaksPagan TimePassing for NormalPeople Who Eat DarknessPerfect ChaosPerfect ExamplePermanent Present TensePersepolisPlanet of the BlindPlaying with FirePlease Don't Kill the FreshmanPoisoned LovePollockPOPismPortraits of Huntington'sPoster ChildProzac DiaryPsychiatrist on the RoadPsychosis in the FamilyPuppy Chow Is Better Than ProzacQuitting the Nairobi TrioRaising BlazeReasons to Stay AliveRebuiltRecovered, Not CuredRelative StrangerRescuing JeffreyRestricted AccessRevengeRewind, Replay, RepeatRichard RortyRiding the Bus With My SisterRobert Lowell, Setting the River on FireRoom For JRosemaryRough MagicRunning After AntelopeRunning with ScissorsRXScattershotSchizophreniaSchopenhauerSecond OpinionsSectionedSeeing EzraSeeing the CrabServing the ServantSet the Boy FreeSex & Single GirlsSex ObjectShakespeareShe Bets Her LifeShe Got Up Off the CouchShut the DoorSickenedSilencing the VoicesSimone de BeauvoirSinging in the FireSkin GameSlackjawSlut!SmashedSome Assembly RequiredSome Kind of GeniusSometimes Amazing Things HappenSometimes Madness Is WisdomSongs from the Black ChairSongs of the Gorilla NationSoren KierkegaardSpeak to MeSpeaking Our Minds: Revised EditionSpecial SiblingsSpentStandbyStick FigureStill LivesStretchSunset StorySurviving OpheliaSwing LowTales from Both Sides of the BrainTales of PsychotherapyTalk to HerTell Me Everything You Don't RememberTellingTelling Tales About DementiaThe Accidental BillionairesThe AddictThe Anatomy of HopeThe Anti-Romantic ChildThe Art of MisdiagnosisThe Bastard on the Couch CDThe BeastThe Bell JarThe Best Seat in the HouseThe Big FixThe Body SilentThe Boy on the Green BicycleThe Boy Who Loved Too MuchThe Boy Who Loved WindowsThe Bright HourThe Buddha & The BorderlineThe Burn JournalsThe Camera My Mother Gave MeThe Cancer Monologue ProjectThe Center Cannot HoldThe Chelsea WhistleThe Churkendoose AnthologyThe Day the Voices StoppedThe Devil WithinThe DisappearanceThe Discomfort ZoneThe Doctor Is InThe Eden ExpressThe Family GeneThe Family SilverThe Farm Colonies: Caring for New York City's Mentally Ill In Long Island's State HospitalsThe Fasting GirlThe First Man-Made ManThe First TimeThe Geography of BlissThe Glass CastleThe Good DoctorsThe Hillside Diary and Other WritingsThe Incantations of Daniel JohnstonThe Infidel and the ProfessorThe Last AsylumThe Last Good FreudianThe Last Time I Wore a DressThe Liars' ClubThe Lives and Loves of Daisy and Violet HiltonThe Lives They Left BehindThe LobotomistThe Long GoodbyeThe Looked After Kid: Memoirs from a Children's HomeThe Loony-Bin TripThe Madness of Our LivesThe Making of a PhilosopherThe Making of Friedrich NietzscheThe Man Who Couldn't EatThe Man Who Shocked the WorldThe Man Who Tasted ShapesThe Marvelous Hairy GirlsThe Maximum Security Book ClubThe Me in the MirrorThe Memory PalaceThe Mercy PapersThe Mistress's DaughterThe Mother of Black HollywoodThe Naked Bird WatcherThe Naked Lady Who Stood on Her HeadThe Neuroscientist Who Lost Her MindThe Night of the GunThe Noonday DemonThe Notebook GirlsThe NursesThe Only Girl in the CarThe Only Girl in the WorldThe Orchid ThiefThe Other HollywoodThe OutsiderThe Philosopher's Autobiography The Philosophical Breakfast ClubThe Philosophical IThe Pits and the PendulumThe Pornographer's GriefThe Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner The Professor and the MadmanThe Psychopath TestThe Quiet RoomThe RecoveringThe Red DevilThe Rescue of Belle and SundanceThe Ride TogetherThe Rules of the TunnelThe Secret of LifeThe Shaking Woman or A History of My NervesThe Shared HeartThe Shiniest JewelThe Siren's DanceThe Statistical Life of MeThe Story of My FatherThe Strange Case of Hellish NellThe Summer of a DormouseThe SurrenderThe Talking CureThe Thought that CountsThe Three of UsThe Undoing ProjectThe Vagina MonologuesThe Velveteen FatherThe Winter of Our DisconnectThe Woman Who Walked into the SeaThe Years of Silence are PastThe Yellow HouseThe Yipping TigerThick As ThievesThinThis Close to HappyThomas S. SzaszTiger, TigerTits, Ass, and Real EstateTo Redeem One Person Is to Redeem the WorldTo Walk on EggshellsTransforming MadnessTrue CompassTruth & BeautyTruth Comes in BlowsTuesdays with MorrieTweakTwitch and ShoutUltimate JudgementUndercurrentsUnholy GhostUnlikelyVoices of AlcoholismVoices Of Alzheimer'sVoices of CaregivingVoices of RecoveryVoluntary MadnessWaiting for DaisyWar FareWashing My Life AwayWastedWaveWe're Going to Need More WineWe're Not MonstersWeather Reports from the Autism FrontWeekends at BellevueWhat Did I Do Last Night?What Goes UpWhat I Learned in Medical SchoolWhat's Normal?When a Crocodile Eats the SunWhen Breath Becomes AirWhen Do I Get My Shoelaces Back?.....When It Gets DarkWhen the Piano StopsWhen You Are Engulfed in FlamesWhere Did It All Go Right?Where is the Mango Princess?Where the Roots Reach for WaterWhile the City SleptWhile They SleptWho Was Jacques Derrida?Why I Left, Why I StayedWhy I'm Like ThisWildWill's ChoiceWinnicottWinnieWish I Could Be ThereWith Their EyesWomen Living with Self-InjuryWomen, Body, IllnessWrestling with the AngelYou All Grow Up and Leave MeYou Must Be DreamingYour Voice in My HeadZeldaZor
Mary Flannery O'Connor described herself as a 13th century Catholic and she was right. Surprisingly in an age given to nihilism, progressivism, and consolidation this traditional, Southern, cerebral, talented and orthodox Catholic is among America's most important writers. There are any number of literary, cultural, and psychological reasons why Mary Flannery stands among the pantheon of American writers but, there are none more important than the fact that she understood an inherent, apodictical truth: modern man has closed his existence, "annihilated the cosmos by contracting reality into himself," and created a "new world" formed in Hegelian second realities.
The beautiful, brilliant, passionate Flannery was God's partisan guerrilla. She eschewed modernity's derailments, technocratic miasmas, and the primordial desire to destroy and rebuild in an endless Gnostic rhythm. She was the crusader knight, who understood the metaxical reality as God's gift; that life was sacrosanct, and the communion of man and the divine proffered redemption in a world distorted by sin. It is this aspect of her personality, of her being, that draws the attention of even the most adamant atheist. Flannery's gift is her ability to reify the possibility of immortality.
Her work and her life have become something of a cottage industry. The latest of a phalanx of literary critics to divine Ms. O'Connor's psyche and work is Brad Gooch whose heralded 2009 biography of the Grand Dame of Andulasia is the best of the lot. It is surely "the best" in terms of its comprehensive and exhaustive examination of all things Flannery. And to his credit, Gooch has the decency to avoid both the apotheosizing hagiography and the contemptuous modernist dismissal.
So it was that while the church was well on its way to being immanetized by an approaching Vatican II, and while a pernicious nihilism would, in time, gloriously erode all of Western culture and corrupt the toporific seminaries, universities, and parishes, Ms. O'Connor was feverishly creating a powerful response to and a rejection of those second realities that acknowledged the derailed ideological distortions so coveted by modernity. Consequently, by the middle of the century this young woman captured the tension of reality in her literary work. She explicated in story as the sages had done in myth, the truth of the Ground of existence, wherein truth, order, and reality are experienced as a transcendent reality. Refortifying a vocabulary of the experience, where the condition of the "nuances" of the tension of existence were described in the words: love, hope, and faith. Words that were fundamental in Flannery's art because she understood the intrinsic nature, aptly identified even before Heraclitus, not only of existence but of the necessary Augustinian concept of "amor Dei" which determined the ground of human experience as an event of potential being not existing out of itself but rather as coming "from somewhere even if we don't know from where."
But Flannery's oeuvre, Gooch observes, possessed a moral, perhaps spiritual, accretion that provided a unique insight and wisdom adumbrated in her story and life. While visiting St. Catherine's College of St. Paul in 1960 to deliver a lecture titled, "Some Thoughts on the Catholic Novelist," she remarked that, "The the fiction writer should be characterized by this kind of vision. His kind of vision is prophetic vision. Prophecy...is dependent on the imaginative and not the moral faculty. The Prophet is a realist of distances." But, the prophet is limited by their knowledge or horizon and as Plato tells us in the "Laws," divine reality is determined by vision, by opsis, and it was the "vision" that was Flannery's domain.
And, while fans of Flannery will focus on her intellectual and spiritual exuberance, her biographer, relentlessly reminds us that she was flesh and bone, that she was all too human, given to idiosyncratic behavior common in the specie, and always seemed to enjoy "good" companionship and camaraderie. In the summer of 1953 she made her first visit to the home of Brainard and Frances Cheney, Cold Chimneys and "renamed Idler's Retreat after central heat was installed in 1957" which had become a gathering place for the most formidable association of American literati, the "Southern Renaissance," many of whom originated with the renown "Fugitives" of Vanderbilt of which Brainard was a member. Compared by Cleanth Brooks as similar to the Irish literary renaissance this loose, unofficial cadre included Brooks, Caroline Gordon, Robert Penn Warren, Randall Jarrell, Andrew Lytle, Eudora Welty, Allen Tate, Katherine Ann Porter, Jean Stafford, Peter Taylor, Eleanor Ross, Malcolm Crowley, Russell Kirk, Robert Lowell, and Walker Percy.
The highpoint of the weekend, Gooch tells his readers, was the gathering in the Cheney's impressive library where Flannery read aloud "The River" and later "A Good Man is Hard to Find." A visitor that weekend, Ashley Brown, recalled that Flannery's reading of "A Good Man..." left her audience enthralled, "by the time that the grandmother found herself alone with The Misfit we were stunned into silence. It was a masterful performance."
Flannery had what is now the obligatory lesbian friend, one Betty Hester, Gooch dutifully reports. A fact that must have driven many on the left wild with breathless anticipation as the author reports Betty's honesty in admitting a sexual indiscretion with a woman in Germany just after the war in a letter to Flannery. Flannery's immediate response would warm the heart of the most radical of the "politically correct" crowd:
"I can't write you fast enough," Flannery wrote, "and tell you that it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference in my opinion of you, which is the same as it was, and that is: based solidly on complete respect." So there you have it. A rock solid, Latin Mass Catholic confessing in the mid-1950's that her friend's sexual preferences doesn't effect their friendship.
Sadly, while Flannery understood their relationship as a form of "kinship," Betty saw it differently. Forty years later in a letter Betty wrote to novelist Greg Johnson, she confided, "As you must sense, I did love her very, very much-and, God knows, do."
The author rather excels in his close historical and literary analysis of Flannery's work. For example in "The Artifical Nigger," he explains that even in the South in the mid-1950's the "title phrase instantly got her in trouble." The iconic Fugitive writer/editor, John Crowe Ransom, desired to publish Flannery's story in his Kenyon Review but wrote her saying "I hate to insult the black folks' sensibilities." Flannery, however, wouldn't relent on the offensive phrase, which triggered her creative instinct, having first heard it from her mother, Regina, who in being given directions by a stranger pointed her toward the only house in town with an "artificial nigger."
After several rewrites and numerous suggestions from her mentor, Caroline Gordon (Mrs. Allen Tate), Flannery was finally pleased with her work and wrote of her protagonist's "transformation" as "the action of mercy covered his pride like a flame and consumed it." Flannery, Gooch tells us, "viewed the story's diminutive plaster-of-Paris statue-provoking the healing of a rift between uncle and nephew-as a textbook Christ symbol, suggesting 'the redemptive quality of the Negro's suffering for us all.'"
Gooch's analysis of O'Connor's remarkable oeuvre is both close and in depth and reveals a balanced exegesis whose primary concern is the objective truth.
I find that I'm not able to tell you of her suffering from lupus erythematosus. Gooch provides an accurate and exact accounting of her misery. But, I'll leave the constant reader with a rather profound paragraph rendered by the author. A paragraph that Mary Flannery would have approved and one that wonderfully summarizes the tenuous reality of her metalepsis:
"Flannery spent her life making literary chickens walk backward. But she had also spent much of her adult writing life looking down the barrel of the Misfit's shotgun. Just as her friends had to discern the contours of true suffering between the lines of her funny vignettes of invalidism, so her stories included a coded spiritual autobiography."
It is not possible, upon reading her stories, that one does not love Mary Flannery O'Connor.