Wednesday, August 18, 2010

fifty-four

Everything That Rises Must Converge

The name Flannery O'Connor comes with accolades and gravitas and sad trombones of wonder - and Jacob is reading this book of short stories while he waits for John Locke to be pushed out of his father's high rise condominium. So I had to try her out. What I found was some excellent writing craft, some piercing looks into how our minds work, and a whole lotta loathing.

Each story is a thoughtful stare from a different angle at the worst and possibly most fun trait we've got as a species: self-absorbed loathing. Whether that loathing is directed at: your uneducated, needy, Southern mother's racism; everyone you feel has done you wrong from the help to your good-for-nothing sons; your lack of artistic talent and the inability of the world you know to appreciate it; black people; women; your useless son who just wants to mourn your dead wife for some odd reason; the city; your wife's reserved religiousity; God; your in-laws.

This loathing at first is unrecognizable, but then it comes to you: we all feel it. From the guy who cuts you off and the daggers you stare into his rearview mirror to politicians to Glenn Beck to Keith Olbermann to the uncaring responses pedestrians have to the homeless to something your spouse does without thinking to... your in-laws. It's not always loathing of the first degree, but sometimes it's background noise that flares up out of nowhere and you find yourself deleting an angry email or staring too hard at people who don't deserve it or apologizing to a friend. Or you blog about how stupid and evil that pundit or this Senator is.

We all feel it - it's part of living in this world that we don't control. O'Connor's world is a little different than ours, and certain words and ideas come more easily to her than they do to us (just ask Dr. Laura). But though her characters can seem archaic and ignorant, there are more similarities than you first think. We're all the richer for her piercing, funny, horrible, depressing, and amazing view of how we try to get through the trials of life.

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