Saturday, July 23, 2016


“Parker looked, turned white and moved away. The eyes in the reflected face continued to look at him — still, straight, all-demanding, enclosed in silence.”
~ from “Parker’s Back” by Flannery O’Connor


Flannery O’Connor was born on a Wednesday, March 25, 1925 in Savannah, Georgia.  She was the only child of Edward and Regina O’Connor, devout Catholics in the Bible Belt, ripe with Protestantism.  O’Connor got a good dose of both influences growing up, which influenced her writing almost as much as Jesus Christ himself.   After graduating from high school in 1942, O’Connor enrolled in Georgia State College for Women and then moved on to the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Through her education, O’Connor met teachers and critics that marveled at her work, encouraging her to develop her Southern Gothic style, which employed regional settings and “grotesque” characters, such as freaks or misfits.  O'Connor's Complete Stories won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction.  In and online poll, conducted in 2009, Complete Stories was named the best book ever to have won a National Book Award.  O’Connor died, tragically, of lupus when she was just thirty-nine years old.  During her brief career, O’Connor wrote two novels, thirty-two short stories, and many reviews and commentaries.

When We Met:  I was eighteen when I read “Parker’s Back”, the haunting story of O.E. Parker, a man who wants nothing to do with religion.  He meets a devout but austere woman who he later marries, unable to fight the terrible truth that God is real.  The title “Parker’s Back” refers to O.E.’s back that he will not tattoo.  The rest of his body is covered in ink, which he wears proudly as an anti-establishment chip on his shoulder.  Once he realizes that Jesus is an all-consuming fire, he searches a catalog in a tattoo parlor to find a picture of him.  The complexity and desperation of the story is amazing – a web spun with pure gold. 

Why She’s Good:  O’Connor was “kissed by God” – she was meant to write.  Each story involves an unapologetic wrestling with God, the central reason she is writing in the first place.  Flannery’s stories have deep, spiritual themes.  In addition to her round, Southern characters, struggling to connect with those around them, O’Connor writes God into her stories.  He is always there, somewhere.  She openly wrestled with paradoxes she saw around her.   She didn’t avoid subjects that “good Christian folk” were not supposed to talk about.  Her aim, she once explained, was “to penetrate the natural to reveal the supernatural” by writing about the unthinkable acts of grace.  With all of this said, Flannery O’Connor cannot be described as a “a Christian Writer” any more than Shakespeare can be described as “an English poet.”

Plot Variations:  A man intends to take his family from Georgia to Florida for a summer vacation, but his mother warns him of an escaped convict heading in that direction.  A racist woman who runs a farm seeks to run a scrub bull from her property singlehandedly, if possible.  A PhD and amputee opens her heart to a traveling Bible salesman only to see his true colors exposed.

Buy One:  Easy.  Buy Complete Stories, the perfect sampling of Flannery O’Connor. Available Here

Favorite Quote:  O’Connor viewed Christianity differently than how she viewed the church: “The only thing that makes the church endurable is that somehow it is the body of Christ, and on this we are fed. The operation of the church is entirely set up for the sake of the sinner, which creates much misunderstanding among the smug.”  

Trivia: Flannery O’Connor is cited by many authors as a writer who influenced their work, but many others have been affected by her as well.  Once in an interview, Bruce Springsteen was asked to name his biggest influence.  He replied: “One would be difficult, but the short stories of Flannery O’Connor landed hard on me. You could feel within them the unknowability of God, the intangible mysteries of life that confounded her characters, and which I find by my side every day. They contained the dark Gothicness of my childhood and yet made me feel fortunate to sit at the center of this swirling black puzzle, stars reeling overhead, the earth barely beneath us.”

The bleeding, stinking, mad shadow of Jesus: True to Southern Gothic Form, O’Connor wrote The Violent Bear it Away, a story about Francis Tarwater, a fourteen-year-old character who does not want to fulfill a destiny that God is calling him to: being a prophet.  A modern-day version of Jonah, many people say that they see Flannery in him. Judge for yourself: "His black eyes, glassy and still, reflected depth on depth his own stricken image of himself, trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus."

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