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An epistolary group portrait that will appeal to readers interested in the Catholic underpinnings of O’Connor’s life and...

Wide-ranging letters reveal deep bonds between a literary titan and her friends.

“Most letters between writers are largely given over to envy, spite, wisecracks, discussions of money, the short-sightedness of award committees, soured love affairs and the innumerable horrors of the literary life,” Michael Dirda once wrote. These letters by the National Book Award–winning short story writer and her friends alternately fit and break the mold. Anyone looking for Southern literary gossip will find plenty of barbs—e.g., novelist and critic Caroline Gordon’s jab at William Faulkner, “I wonder if he wrote those paragraphs when drunk”; or O’Connor’s complaint about the press: “I think photographers are the lowest breed of men and just being in the presence of one brings out my worst face.” But there’s also higher-toned talk on topics such as the symbolism in O’Connor’s work and the nature of free will. The subtitle notwithstanding, this book has many letters previously published in full or in part in the 1988 collection of O’Connor’s letters, The Habit of Being, or The Letters of Flannery O’Connor and Caroline Gordon (2018). The most revealing new material appears in letters O’Connor exchanged with the Jesuit priests James McCown and Scott Watson. These show how ardently she tried to live by the Catholic faith that informs her work. In a disarmingly earnest letter to McCown, O’Connor asks whether she must go to confession after eating butterbeans cooked in ham stock on a Friday: “There is something about you can use drippings but you can’t use stock.” Abundant headnotes by Alexander supply context as they follow O’Connor from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop to her death at the age of 39 from complications of lupus in her native Georgia. O’Connor’s correspondents range from an Atlanta file clerk to celebrated writers such as Robert Lowell, Walker Percy, and Katherine Anne Porter; taken together, the letters affirm Gordon’s comment about her friend: “She is certainly a remarkable person and a remarkable writer.”

An epistolary group portrait that will appeal to readers interested in the Catholic underpinnings of O’Connor’s life and work.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-57506-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Convergent

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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