Thursday, July 30, 2009

Miss O'Connor and the Idiot

I've been catching up on some Flannery O'Connor short stories that I haven't read for years. Terrific stuff. A reminder: she died of lupus at 39. Significant, powerful writer. I've also been reading The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, which, if you have not read and you are any kind of fan, you must read. The letters get a slow start, mostly I imagine because of your shifting into an epistolary gear. That being said, you feel as if you get to know this woman, who is hilarious and wise and brilliant and herself. Letter writing ought to be a bigger part of my life, I'm convinced. There's something beautiful there.

I am still reading Dostoevsky's The Idiot, which is excellent. But then it's Dostoevsky. One way in which I prefer Dostoevsky over Tolstoy is that he's an easier Russian writer to follow. I often get mired in all the names (and variety of names) of all the characters in the Russian novel. Tolstoy makes it even more difficult by jumping from one narrative to the next, each with different characters (and all, for an American, with oddly similar names). Dostoevsky is more willing to stick with a single narrative. If you haven't read Dostoevsky, please do so. He's an investment well worth your time.

And, of course, if you haven't read Flannery O'Connor in a while, or if you don't read her because you imagine her stories are too strange or grotesque, give her another try. And read her with the understanding that realism is not her goal as a writer so much as distortion, and distortion that's purposeful. There's something wildly prophetic about her. And something terribly funny. She sticks to the ribs.

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