VOICES: A Life of Frank O'Connor by James Matthews

VOICES: A Life of Frank O'Connor

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Painstaking and impeccably researched, thoughtful if not strongly illuminating, this worthy biography of Irish short-story master Frank O'Connor (1903-1966) mixes assessments of the O'Connor canon into the detailed life story of Michael O'Donovan: O'Connor's real name. (He became known to many as ""Michael/Frank."") Born in Cork, a self-dubbed ""mother's boy"" with a brooding, violent father, Michael grew up as a bookish, insecure rebel--leaving school, acting as a courier in the Troubles (briefly imprisoned), finding self-confidence as a librarian, existing in a confused state between ""romance and reality"". . . and finally setting off for Dublin at 25, ""a passionate and naive young man. . . fumbling for a suitable social style"" (and a literary style as well). He found mentors in generous Yeats and ""AE"" (George Russell). His early stories included the classic ""Guests of the Nation""; his attempts at novels were rockier. (""He was a storyteller interested more in recreating flash points of human existence than in constructing a logical artifice."") He had a stormy period behind the scenes at the Abbey Theatre--where his abrasive individualism made enemies. He wrestled with angry disappointment over the state of post-Treaty Ireland (censorship, ""homegrown tyranny""). He branched out into journalism, criticism, broadcasting--though his art peaked in the stories of Crab Apple Jelly, with a ""humanism that. . . surfaced less and less as the clamor of his own subjective abyss became louder, more cacophonous."" Unfortunately, however, though Matthews refers repeatedly to this ""abyss"" and fully records O'Connor's private-life strains (poor health, painful divorce, an illegitimate child), the nature of his angst remains a murky stew of generalizations (struggles ""between his head and his heart,"" etc.). And the close-up recounting of O'Connor's life--especially in the later years of American teaching, second marriage, and far-flung enthusiasms--sometimes loses shape and focus. Still, though ""no single O'Connor story can be seen to display a direct personal reference,"" Matthews convincingly documents the autobiographical colorations of the fiction. And, for both O'Connor admirers and students of Irish 20th-century literature, this is a valuable study.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1983
Publisher: Atheneum