Shut up, Bobby Lee,” The Misfit said. “It’s no real pleasure in life.
In this short story, a grandmother leads her exasperated family on a wild goose chase in rural Georgia. While looking for the site of her girlhood homestead, she inadvertently brings her whole family to their deaths at the hands of a tortured killer, The Misfit.
O’Connor was unapologetically religious and not particularly known for a sunny disposition yet her brief but productive career exemplifies the best of Southern Gothic literature.
O’Connor created works of moral fiction that, according to Joyce Carol Oates, “were not refined New Yorker stories of the era in which nothing happens except inside the characters’ minds, but stories in which something happens of irreversible magnitude, often death by violent means.”
The South impresses its image on the Southern writer from the moment he is able to distinguish one sound from another…the Southern writer’s greatest tie with the South is through his ear.
In her distinctive Georgian drawl, O’Connor tells the story of a fateful family trip in this rare recording.
You can read the short story here.
I visited her home in Savannah, walked the leafy East Charlton Street, and sat in the church where she attended mass nearly every day, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, in Lafayette Square.
I’ve always been curious about what Flannery O’Connor was like as a kid. Turns out she was a “pigeon-toed only child with a receding chin and a you-leave-me-alone-or-I’ll-bite-you complex”.
An avid reader from an early age, the young O’Connor wrote comments on the leaves of her childhood books. For Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, she skewered Lewis Carroll with a succinct review: Awful. I wouldn’t read this book. The note on Shirley Watkins’s Georgina Finds Herself was even harsher: This is the worst book I ever read next to “Pinnochio”. Little Men survived Flannery’s scrutiny with its dignity intact: First rate, splendid.
As a child, Flannery O’Connor illustrated chickens, “the same chicken over and over,” and she wrote occasional verse. Her artwork was probably inspired by the ducks and chickens she kept as pets in the backyard of the Savannah row house.
O’Connor was an avid cartoonist as well as a writer. For her high school and college publications in the 1940’s, she created drawings cut from linoleum. While the content is related to her experience as a student, the slightly skewed perspective is vintage O’Connor.
In addition to a cutting wit, O’Connor had a fondness for fowl and coffee mixed with Coca-Cola. She led a fairly sheltered life that she once said would not be remembered because “lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy.”
She could not have been more wrong.
Flannery O’Connor saw, heard, and experienced the same things as everyone else but, out of those ordinary daily events, she imagined extraordinary possibilities. She sharpened and intensified what she saw with unusual twists and unexpected turns, influenced by living in that defining Southern town of Savannah.
O’Connor eked out the last years of her life in relative solitude with her mother, turning her childhood home into a makeshift bird sanctuary before dying of lupus at 39.
There’s one new surprise to be discovered, though, tucked under the stairs on East Charleton Street. It’s a Little Free Library. I think Flannery would have liked that.
As for that good man I found in Savannah, his name is Stratton Leopold. But that’s for another post.