Posts Tagged ‘Flannery O’Connor’
March 3, 2015 | by Jonathan Lee
There’s a moment in “Car-Crash While Hitchhiking,” a story by Denis Johnson that first appeared in The Paris Review, in 1989, when a woman learns of the death of her husband and unleashes a terrible scream. The narrator, instead of expressing the expected sympathy, leans out of the page a little to offer this unnerving confession: “It felt wonderful to be alive to hear it! I’ve gone looking for that feeling everywhere.”
Reading Young Skins, Colin Barrett’s debut story collection, can leave one with a similar sense of disturbed gratitude. The stories blend moments of horror with moments of hilarity, shocks of joy with shocks of despair, and no matter how grim a given scene by Barrett can get, it’s a thrill to be alive to hear him. In a restroom, under a naked bulb, we find “a lidless shitter operated by a fitfully responsive flush handle.” In a field, “crushed cans of Strongbow and Dutch Gold and Karpackie are buried in the mud like ancient artefacts.” A “big brown daddy-long-legs pedals airily in the sink basin,” its movements ”describing a flustered circle,” and a character named Bat cannot enjoy his dinner because a clan of kids is “eyeing the bulky hydraulics of his jaw.”
The vitality of Barrett’s prose—the special intensity of attention he’s able to draw from details of small-town life—has already helped win him the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award, the Guardian First Book Award, and the Rooney Prize for Irish Literature. To mark the U.S. release of Young Skins this month, I talked with him about his allergy to “lethally competent writing,” the details of character and language upon which he builds a story, and how a work of fiction—like the community it describes—can develop “its shibboleths, its customs and codes, its own way of talking to itself.”
Were your earliest efforts as a writer very different to the stories collected in Young Skins?
I wrote and drew lots of gory comic books as a young kid and as a teen. Then I discovered and wrote lots of poetry around college age. Awful, sub-Ashbery, sub-Muldoon, sub-Eliot stuff, but at least it was writing. Then I attempted a few novels—multinarrator, genre-splicing Pynchonian or Foster Wallace sprawlers, usually set in alternate futures, though I never got more than a couple dozen pages in. I only started really writing stories at twenty-five. The early stuff was all, obviously, awful—but awful in a vital way. The wonderful thing about being completely inexperienced is the impregnable purity of your ignorance. You are utterly insensible to any conception of your own crippling and patent limitations, and so you try anything and everything. Read More »
January 12, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
“I like big novels,” Robert Stone said in his 1985 Art of Fiction interview. “I really admire the grand slam.” Stone died last weekend in Florida, at seventy-seven. He leaves behind more than a few grand slams—broad, despairing, powerful books full of searchers, outsiders, and misfits. His work exudes what Jessica Hagedorn calls “exquisite paranoia and apocalyptic dread.”
Of course, descriptions like that can make his novels sound too potent—and one of the surprising things about Stone, it must be said, is how little he’s read these days. I hope that will change. As M. H. Miller wrote of him in 2013,
He’s a best-selling author whose work has been heaped with critical praise, but because of the long interims between books, he is more heard of than read by a certain generation of readers. Updike had Rabbit, Roth had Zuckerman, Norman Mailer had Gary Gilmore, even Joan Didion, whose novels are the least interesting thing about her, had Maria Wyeth. Among Mr. Stone’s books there is no clear standout, no obvious introduction. His work is best taken in tandem, like one long narrative where you age with the characters.
He’s right: among readers my age, Stone’s work has had that enviable air of mystery to it. He was always that major writer lurking in the distance. His books didn’t seem approachable, not because they were long or “difficult” but because, as the New York Times put it, they “resonate with philosophical concerns, the thin divides between life and death, good and evil, God and godlessness.” These were tomes about war and God and postwar tumult, and, uh, we definitely wanted to get to them, yes, but—maybe later? Read More »
November 11, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Last week, our editor Lorin Stein spoke at an event in San Francisco about Édouard Levé, whose work he’s translated—the audio from the discussion is now online.
- Flannery O’Connor has been inducted into the American Poets Corner at New York’s St. John the Divine, the “only shrine to American literature in the country.” “Inducting O’Connor this year was a fairly easy consensus decision. More contentious was the selection of the quotation for her plaque. The challenge was to tread a line between what Nelson called O’Connor’s ‘grand pronouncements’ and what Alfred Corn called her southern ‘cracker-barrel humor.’ The quote they settled on is from a 1953 letter that O’Connor wrote to Elizabeth Hardwick and Robert Lowell … ‘I can with one eye squinted take it all as a blessing.’ ”
- John le Carré’s A Most Wanted Man is banned at Guantánamo, and he’s altogether pretty psyched about it: “In banning my novel, the custodians of Guantánamo have once again demonstrated their sensitivity and respect for human dignity. No prisoner who has not been found guilty of any crime should be subjected to cruel and degrading literature.”
- Today in bold claims from evolutionary psychologists: “Gossip is what makes human society as we know it possible.” Tell all your friends.
- The long, strange birth of Fundamentalism in America: “The term itself was coined in the 1920s by American Protestants who resolved to return to the ‘fundamentals’ of Christianity. Their retreat from public life after the Civil War had narrowed and, perhaps, distorted their vision. Instead of engaging as before with such issues as racial or economic inequality, they focused on biblical literalism, convinced that every single assertion of scripture was literally true. And so, their enemy was no longer social injustice but the German Higher Criticism of the Bible, which had been embraced by the more liberal American Christians who were still attempting to bring the gospel to bear on social problems.”
October 14, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Flannery O’Connor on a 1957 television adaptation of her story “The Life You Save May Be Your Own”: “Well, I have seen the production and I thought it was slop of the third water. I aver that everybody connected in any way with it, except me, had a stinking pole cat for a mother and father.”
- Thomas Pynchon doesn’t enjoy talking to reporters, but he’s not really a recluse—who saddled him with that reputation? It may have been none other than our own founding editor: “It all started fifty-one years ago, in 1963, when George Plimpton in the New York Times published the line: ‘Pynchon is in his early twenties; he writes in Mexico City—a recluse.’ It is doubtful if Plimpton, who helped create The Paris Review, knew at the time that he was accidentally kicking off the largest and longest game of Where’s Waldo? ever conceived. Nevertheless, the label has stuck.”
- Daily bummer: “We must reckon with the fact that pop culture really likes to be agreeable along with its thrills. It likes to say yes, and makes endless conciliations to do so. It is safer to say yes. Yes can be deeply pleasurable. History is made by those who say no.”
- Kierkegaard’s prescience extends to cyberbullying and trolls: “If, for instance, I enter a place where many are gathered, it often happens that one or another right away takes up arms against me by beginning to laugh; presumably he feels that he is being a tool of public opinion. But lo and behold, if I then make a casual remark to him, that same person becomes infinitely pliable and obliging … That is what comes of living in a petty community.”
- Is contemplation a pleasant exercise? No, experts say, “most people would rather give themselves an electric shock than be alone with their thoughts.” But “proclaiming that we’re unable to enjoy our own thoughts suggests that our mental weather is always supposed to be pleasant … The human mind is not meant to resemble a postcard from paradise forever fixed in a state of tropical bliss. It’s a vast and perplexing wonderland whose entire topography can change in an instant.
June 23, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Gordon Lish, at eighty, lives literally in the dark, because of his psoriasis: “His apartment is a crepuscular chamber, largely unchanged since his wife died more than a decade ago. With his heavy knit sweater and wild white hair, which culminates in a braid, he wanders these rooms looking like some cross between an old fisherman and King Lear … The problem with Lish is that he is all over the place. That also happens to be the best thing about him.”
- “I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail.” Flannery O’Connor hated Ayn Rand …
- … and Rand loved trains. More specifically, she loved to write about morally unworthy people dying in fiery train crashes: “The doomed include everyone from a lawyer who feels he can ‘get along under any political system,’ to ‘an elderly schoolteacher who had spent her life turning class after class of helpless children into miserable cowards’ because they believed in the will of the majority …”
- Borges: not a World Cup fan. “Soccer is popular,” he once said, “because stupidity is popular.”
- Further evidence that writing may be, you know, creative: scientists tracked “the brain activity of both experienced and novice writers … The inner workings of the professionally trained writers in the bunch, the scientists argue, showed some similarities to people who are skilled at other complex actions, like music or sports.”
March 27, 2014 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Before there was MFA vs. NYC, there was Flannery O’Connor, discussing the merits of an MFA program: “It can put [a writer] in the way of experienced writers and literary critics, people who are usually able to tell him after not too long a time whether he should go on writing or enroll immediately in the school of Dentistry.”
- The love letters of a young Ian Fleming reveal him to be a jealous, sadistic romantic: “I would have to whip you and you would cry and I don’t want that. I only want for you to be happy. But I would also like to hurt you because you have earned it and in order to tame you like a little wild animal. So be careful, you.”
- Beware intemperance! Exhumed from the Library of Congress: a 1908 map depicting “the negative consequences of drinking and ungodliness, using an imaginary set of railroad lines, states, towns, and landmarks.” Highlights: Selfishburg, Hypocrisy Heights, Lewd Castle, Whiskeyton, Gossip Center, Presumptionville, Treasondale, and Embezzle City.
- John Coltrane’s tenor saxophone will join the collection of the American History Museum. (This year also marks the fiftieth anniversary of his seminal album A Love Supreme.)
- On CNN’s coverage of Flight 370: “This willingness to fixate on one big story and sensationalize it reflects CNN’s growing embrace of the phenomenology of news. It’s an approach that emphasizes the viewer’s experience of singular news events as much, if not more than, the news itself.”