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FLANNERY by Brad Gooch


A Life of Flannery O’Connor

by Brad Gooch

Pub Date: Feb. 25th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-316-00066-6
Publisher: Little, Brown

Taut biography of the iconic Southern short-story writer and novelist.

Building on scholarly research and O’Connor’s work, biographer/novelist Gooch (English/William Paterson Univ.; Godtalk: Travels in Spiritual America, 2002, etc.) delivers a sound appraisal of the author best known for her racially charged, tragicomic, unsentimental portraits of the South. The only child of devoutly Catholic parents, O’Connor (1925–64) was raised among affluent whites in Milledgeville, Ga., where the local penitentiary, insane asylum and elite Georgia State College for Women (she was class of ’45) helped shape her literary landscape. In 1946, O’Connor gained admission to the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Her perfectly pitched sagas about religious fanatics and backwoods eccentrics quickly established her as a writer of uncommon talent and reach. O’Connor’s blithe use of the epithet “nigger” in her fiction and vast correspondence also made her a controversial figure in American letters, then and now. Stricken with lupus in her mid-20s, she retreated to Andalusia, her family’s sprawling farm on the outskirts of Milledgeville. There, under the dutiful, if challenging care of her widowed mother, she crafted such scintillatingly sardonic stories as “Good Country People,” “Revelation” and “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” She also began to breed the exotic peacocks now routinely linked with her name. Gooch offers little that has not been previously examined in scores of works on the larger-than-life author, dead at 39. Nor does he indulge those who like juicy gossip in their literary bios. He gives short shrift to the speculation surrounding O’Connor’s ardent correspondence with lesbian journalist Betty Hester, and quotes the Danish-born textbook salesman who befriended her in the ’50s dismissing rumors of their alleged sexual liaison.

Unlike its subject, respectably tame.