Posts Tagged ‘Flannery O’Connor’
January 20, 2016 | by Dan Piepenbring
- Congratulations to Review contributors Garth Greenwell and Ottessa Moshfegh. The former received a rave review of his debut, What Belongs to You, in the New York Times: “Greenwell writes long sentences, pinned at the joints by semicolons, that push forward like confidently searching vines. There’s suppleness and mastery in his voice. He seems to have an inborn ability to cast a spell.” And the latter has been nominated for a National Book Critics Circle Award for her novel Eileen.
- In the 1840s, before photomechanical printing processes came along, illustrated books were adorned by hand with “real” photographs. “Photography incubabula,” as such projects are known, were time-consuming to produce, requiring a complicated development process and elaborate pasting. You can have a look at some of them in the Getty, whose photography incubabula collection “spans a vast array of topics, from a 1878 publication filled with beautiful microscopic images of plant anatomy to an exceptionally rare 1844 edition of H. Fox Talbot’s The Pencil of Nature—considered the first commercially published book illustrated with photographs showing the potential of the medium.”
- Is a young person in your life beginning the college application process? Tell her not to apply to Tolstoy College—yes, it has a prestigious name, but it’s been closed since the eighties. When it was open, though, what a place it was! As Jennifer Wilson tells it, the college, based in Buffalo, was an anarchist paradise: “the college tried to model equal and shared governance and collective decision-making in the running of the school as well. Initially, there was no official policy on grading, but the administration stepped in and imposed limits on the number of A’s that could be given out in a class. Professors then let students decide collectively who would get which grades, using the Marxist rubric of ‘each according to his ability, each according to his need.’ In practice, this meant that one student might say, ‘I need the A; I’m going to law school,’ in the hope of convincing other students that he was truly needy. Faculty salaries were collectively determined, too, and based on the respective household expenses of each staff member.”
- Paul Lisicky on Flannery O’Connor’s story “Revelation” and the torrent of disgraces she rains on her characters: “People, no matter how inert they seem to be, contain the capacity to surprise us, to change … Yes, O’Connor destroys some of her characters—subjects them to humiliation, degradation, violence. But maybe that’s because she understands human stubbornness, how we cling to our limitations until events of great force alter us … A narrative, when it’s really alive, will always disturb you when you’re there to seek comfort, and sing in two contrary voices when you just want to hear a single, pure melody.”
- Turning off your cell phone for a little “off-the-grid” time is a voguish way to announce your awareness of technology’s ills—but is it a mental-health exercise or just another signal of privilege? “The next big fashionable purging movement looks set to be the Wi-Fi detox; a bit like colonic irrigation for the mind, flushing out all the unnecessary gunge … What better proof that you’re just too cool and creative to be ‘on’ all the time; that you need to be free to think great thoughts? … Going off grid is all about suggesting you’re so hotly in demand that you need to stand back from the craziness—but also crucially that you can afford to do so.”
December 10, 2015 | by David Griffith
Reading Flannery O’Connor in the age of Islamophobia.
At a little more than fifty pages, “The Displaced Person” is one of Flannery O’Connor’s least anthologized stories—and if you share her beliefs about what she called “topical” stories, it’s also one of the most problematic. O’Connor was wary of stories that focused squarely and perhaps sentimentally on social issues. Her own “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” featuring a bigoted white woman riding a newly integrated bus, was, she feared, just such a story—though in a letter to a friend she confided that she “got away with it … because I say a plague on everybody’s house as far as the race business goes.”
In the very same letter, O’Connor writes that “the topical is poison,” lambasting Eudora Welty’s famous story “Where Is the Voice Coming From,” written from the point of view of the man who assassinated the civil rights leader Medgar Evers. “It’s the kind of story that the more you think about it the less satisfactory it gets,” O’Connor wrote. “What I hate most is its being in the New Yorker and all of the stupid Yankee liberals smacking their lips over typical life in the dear old dirty Southland.”
Like many in the South, O’Connor abhorred racism but was slow to embrace integration, feeling that to rush things would lead to more violence. This stance may have been part and parcel of her attitude toward topical writing. To be topical, she thought, was to risk arguing for social changes that couldn’t be brought about by mere idealism, but by the hard, messy, and sometimes violent work of transforming hearts. Read More »
July 27, 2015 | by Dan Piepenbring
- The USPS, in its infinite wisdom, has finally put Flannery O’Connor on a postage stamp, but it’s kind of an ugly one. (Peacock feathers have never more resembled dune grasses.) Our art editor, Charlotte Strick, took a stab at a redesign: “I thought about the puzzle offered up by a six-stamp grid. Using selections of the cover art from our newly rereleased O’Connor editions, I found it great fun to wrap the elements around one another in new ways—aiming for each individual stamp to be a mini-artwork of its own.”
- On Max Beerbohm, whose writing, with its “high masquerading style,” is the subject of a new anthology, The Prince of Minor Writers: “No one is more emphatic about the necessity of making a style out of the sound of spoken English … He understood that the sound of spoken English might be anything but blunt—that spoken English tends to be more circuitous, touched by asides, than the self-consciously simplified kind. There are two kinds of extended sentences: one depends on expanding an idea, the other tries to detail a consciousness. The first is argumentative, the second exquisite.”
- Johannes Kepler is remembered for his contributions to astronomy, but his 1608 book, Somnium, in which a demon describes life on the moon, testifies to his talents as a science-fiction author. Jason Novak has illustrated a few passages: “The dark side of the moon is urban, with landscaped gardens and commerce. The face of the moon is wilderness, with forests, fields, and deserts.”
- In which the printing press meets its perfect shadow, the scanner: “As I pushed down on the lever and the shutters fired, it struck me that this was a kind of reverse press, of the most ancient Gutenberg kind. Instead of a block of ink-stained type being pressed on to a page, the book itself is pressed towards the light and its contents are released into the digital ether, to be republished, retransmitted once again.”
- If autofiction and the “memoir-novel” are the order of the day, then why does Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life succeed on such fiercely imaginative terms? “However much this story of failed love between a wounded veteran and an illegal immigrant smacks of authenticity, its author seems to have done precisely what has been cast as no longer possible, creating an immersive world that is fundamentally a fabrication. The success of this novel beckons a closer look at the most consistent sentiment voiced by its reviewers—that it just feels so different.”
April 10, 2015 | by J. C. Gabel
At the time of her death, at age thirty-nine, Flannery O’Connor had published only two novels, thirty-one short stories, and a small book’s worth of literary criticism and critical essays. “In most English classes,” she once wrote, “the short story has become a kind of literary specimen to be dissected.” O’Connor, of course, was referring to her readers experiencing the work, not picking it apart in a writers’ workshop. That same principle drove Charlotte Strick and June Glasson in their recent redesign of the covers of O’Connor’s five books. Strick, the former art director of Farrar, Straus and Giroux and current coprinciple of the design firm Strick&Williams (as well as the art editor of The Paris Review), approached Glasson, an illustrator, about the project in 2013. Four of the five redesigned jackets have been released, with the last coming next month.
Glasson and Strick met through happenstance—a journey that began at a doctor’s office. “Years ago,” Strick says, “while absentmindedly flipping through a magazine in my doctor’s waiting room, I serendipitously stumbled upon a piece about June. I thought her work had a strange, seductive and unique beauty all its own.”
In 2012, Strick commissioned Glasson to create illustrations to accompany an essay by author Rich Cohen about French-American pirate Jean Lafitte and 1800s piracy in New Orleans, which appeared in The Paris Review no. 201. This collaboration triggered Strick’s art-director instinct, and she returned to Glasson when it came time to reenvision O’Connor’s works. “June is capable of imbuing her paintings with a curious maleficence,” Strick told me. “She seemed up for the task of tackling O’Connor.” Read More »
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 »