If I meet you and we have some time to talk, one thing will come out about me. I love books. One of my driving forces is fiction that captures me and meets me someplace deep. Deep in my heart. Deep in my funny bone. Deep in my hopes. Doesn’t matter, just needs to be deep.
There’s a new book out, ”A Good Hard Look” by Ann Napolitano, and one of the characters is Flannery O’Connor, a southern writer who died young and wrote stark, feel-heavy stories that you either appreciated or didn’t.
I am devoted to Flannery O’Connor. I have the peacock feathers on my desk to prove it. She raised peacocks and shares quite a few stories about their antics and challenges. Growing up, my mom had a vase of peacock feathers in our living room and I used to run my hands up their straggly, iridescent lines. Put the two together and I couldn’t resist having some of my own.
Flannery’s letters were delicious to me and I felt as though I sat with a friend whenever I pulled the book into my lap. As the weight of the book’s pages flipped from one side of my lap to another, I began to read very slowly. I knew I was getting to her last letter and then the book would be done because Flannery was done and I would lose these moments of insight and humor and friendship. I began to regret that there would be an end and I began to try to mess with the inevitable and keep her alive by pretending the book wasn’t there. I let it get covered up by other books even. Finally, I read quickly through the last two dozen pages because I just had to get it over and deal with it. There were no tears then but as I write this now, I feel them setting at the edges of my eyes.
I know. Some of you are thinking, get back to writing about the kids, Katrina, and taking their money. But others know what I’m talking about because you know an author this way and you go seeking out their words like a comforting quilt or a picture that used to hang in your grandparents’ house but got sold at a garage sale.
And it’s not just that I actually like her fiction, I found instruction about writing and reading in her essays and letters. One of my favorite quotes from her is this: The fact is that if the writer’s attention is on producing…a work that is good in itself, he is going to take great pains to control every excess. He cannot indulge in sentimentality, in propagandizing, or in pornography and create a work of art, for all these things are excesses. They call attention to themselves and distract from the work as a whole. When I found this quote it put some things together for me about finishing a book and being dissatisfied. It’s why I don’t sprint to the library when a new Nicholas Sparks’ book comes out. It’s why I couldn’t completely appreciate “The Shack”.
So now an author has written a book with Flannery O’Connor as a character. If you’ve read Flannery—her letters, essays and stories you’d know: that’s bold. But if I read it, will I feel like I’m getting the chance to sit with my friend again—will the character she’s written truly be Flannery?
In the news of this book, I find myself wanting to go outside the norm of my book buying habits. Usually, I get in line at the library and read it. If I get it again, it’s a keeper. If I can’t stop telling people about it, I know it should end up on my shelf. I let it sit around in my brain a bit and then I take what I call, The Plunge—irony embraced—and buy it.
Now this book by this author I don’t know. Ms. Napolitano has given Flannery words, thoughts, actions. If she’s done it poorly, well, that’s to be expected, right? I can scoff and rant for a few days and tell everyone off the book. If she’s done it right, then I get to hang out with Flannery O’Connor again and I can barely control my interest in that.
I’ll stop my discourse about a book I haven’t read and one that, obviously, bears a large weight for me. I’ve seen the glowing reviews come in every day for weeks. I’m really happy for the author. You can tell she’s glowing at the press and the attention as every author should. I’m just left wondering, will her book glow for me?
As soon as Amazon delivers, I’ll find out. I hope it’s so.