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Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor    by Brad Gooch order for
by Brad Gooch
Order:  USA  Can
Back Bay, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Tim Davis

As a teacher of literature at a southeastern American university, I seize upon every opportunity to introduce students to novels and short stories from one of the most important, most provocative, and most entertaining writers to have ever lived in the American south: Flannery O'Connor.

Now I can also tell students and everyone else about a superbly rendered biography that is worthy of its impressive and fascinating subject: Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch.

In standard chronological fashion, Gooch begins by showing readers a young Mary Flannery O'Connor as the only child born in 1925 to a 'lace curtain' Irish Catholic couple in Savannah, Georgia. Mary Flannery is an unremarkable student (abysmal at spelling) who is singularly precocious. Preoccupied with art, reading, storytelling, and solitude, a shy young Mary Flannery entertains herself (and others - especially a Pathé News film crew) with Haile (Selassie) the rooster (her favorite), Adolf (Hitler) the rooster (Haile's pen-mate), and Winston (Churchill) the crow. This congenital fondness for birds will follow her throughout her life.

Going on to college in Milledgeville, Georgia, and then to graduate school in Iowa, Flannery (having abandoned her first name) becomes convinced that storytelling will become her raison d'être. While still in graduate school, as an 'extremely guarded' and 'physically awkward' young woman, Flannery O'Connor would begin to publish short stories notable for 'wry humor' and 'weird characters.'

Then, shortly after graduate school, Flannery would be afflicted by disseminated lupus (the disease that had killed her father), and she would return to the south where she would live the rest of her too-short life in Milledgeville until her death in 1964.

Flannery O'Connor left us dozens of short stories (two full collections), two novels (Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away), and a collection of correspondence and nonfiction (posthumously collected in The Habit of Being). As fiercely funny and dark portraits of the American south (going beyond William Faulkner), and as powerful expressions of the author's theological sophistication (going beyond Walker Percy), O'Connor's work will 'live on and on in American literature.'

The bottom line is this: Brad Gooch's exquisite portrait of Flannery O'Connor is engaging and essential reading for anyone interested in knowing more about the 'slow spoken, quiet mannered' woman whose life in the American south and whose unimpeachable faith in God so magnificently served as inspiration for some of the very best writing to have ever been produced in American history.

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