Brad Gooch’s Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor is a very good, very strong consideration of one of the more fascinating, complex, and intriguing figures in American literature. Gooch’s biography is fairly straight-forward in telling O’Connor’s story, but where it shines is in the engaging way it tells the story and the attention-grabbing details Gooch offers along the way.
Gooch presents us with an O’Connor that is deeply committed to her Catholic faith, intellectually rigorous, strident and meticulous in the crafting of her stories, and gloriously opinionated and feisty. His image of her emotional life is compelling, with the passing of her father and her battle with lupus being the major struggles of her all-too-brief life. She spoke intimately of the former with very few people, and did not care to have the latter broadcast and speculated upon beyond that which she herself was willing to share.
One need not even know the actual details of her often tense relationship with her mother, Regina, to surmise from her frequent use of the type of the exasperated Southern woman in her stories that she had ample experience with just this kind of character. Indeed, O’Connor based her female characters on more than a few women in her family, but Regina appears time and again in the tales. The two women could not have been more different (except for their shared devotion to the Catholic Church), and their relationship at Andalusia appears to have progressed primarily as a result of Flannery’s forbearance and careful avoidance of her mother’s excesses. Regina also knew to give her precocious daughter the space she needed to create.
Gooch does a great job of showing how much O’Connor appreciated friends and community, and this biography should forever dispel the image of O’Connor as a recluse. In fact, she had numerous friends with whom she maintained strong relationships, oftentimes primarily through letters as her health declined. She knew what it was to be in love and to have her heart broken. It is regrettable that she never knew requited romantic love. On two occasions, women professed to being in love with Flannery. One professed it to Flannery and the other professed it to others, being too afraid to tell Flannery. Regardless, she was staunchly orthodox in her views of human sexuality and communicated this fact more than once.
Gooch does a phenomenal job setting O’Connor’s stories in the realities she was facing at different moments of her life. He shines especially in showing where certain details of her stories arose from and in pointing out the many inside jokes she built into her stories. Also, Gooch’s depiction of the scandal that O’Connor’s stories frequently caused in and around Milledgeville, GA, and among her relations was illuminating and frequently humorous.
This is a great work and effectively draw the reader emotionally into the story of O’Connor’s life. Highly recommended!