Read Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor by Brad Gooch Online


The landscape of American literature was fundamentally changed when Flannery O'Connor stepped onto the scene with her first published book, Wise Blood, in 1952. Her fierce, sometimes comic novels and stories reflected the darkly funny, vibrant, and theologically sophisticated woman who wrote them. Brad Gooch brings to life O'Connor's significant friendships--with Robert LoThe landscape of American literature was fundamentally changed when Flannery O'Connor stepped onto the scene with her first published book, Wise Blood, in 1952. Her fierce, sometimes comic novels and stories reflected the darkly funny, vibrant, and theologically sophisticated woman who wrote them. Brad Gooch brings to life O'Connor's significant friendships--with Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, Walker Percy, and James Dickey among others--and her deeply felt convictions, as expressed in her communications with Thomas Merton, Elizabeth Bishop, and Betty Hester. Hester was famously known as "A" in O'Connor's collected letters, The Habit of Being, and a large cache of correspondence to her from O'Connor was made available to scholars, including Brad Gooch, in 2006. O'Connor's capacity to live fully--despite the chronic disease that eventually confined her to her mother's farm in Georgia--is illuminated in this engaging and authoritative biography....

Title : Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor
Author :
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ISBN : 9780316018999
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 464 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor Reviews

  • Hannah Garden
    2019-05-23 12:14

    Jeez Louise. I know this book got hell of praise from like the Times and whatever, but man. This is why I never really read biographies, biographies like this. I guess I just feel like a biographer should really really really love whomever s/he's writing about and that should be the whole (or at least the biggest) motivation--that's why Blake Bailey is so good, because even though he's writing about these scurrilous, self-deceiving, agonized men, he is so totally in love with them that you are able to read about their horrid, devious lives without anything but love welling up in you; that's how much he loves them. But biographers usually, it seems at least to my admittedly overly-judgypants mind, are more about their POINT or their THESIS or "Look at ME and what I can say about X!" which I think is gross when you are cradling genius in your little human paws. And this guy GOOCH, for cryin' out loud, he absolutely is in this second team. This team not comprised of Blake Bailey. He just does the freaking literary-criticism bullshit thing where he's all OH LET ME TAKE THIS INSIGNIFICANT, ANECDOTAL MOMENT AND USE IT TO PROP UP THE RIDICULOUS, DISEASED DEAD HORSE OF THIS THING I JUST REALLY WANT TO SAY NO MATTER WHAT. You know? And so many times logic just falls out of the whole equation, and he's left with dick but STILL insists on treating it as evidence. Sometimes stuff is just dick, Mr. Gooch. Blah. I only finished it because I am going to marry Flannery O'Connor, but man alive. Time for somethin' SWEET to wash this pee-tasting pill down.

  • Lawyer
    2019-04-25 13:10

    Do a quick Google search for Flannery O'Connor and the result is an astounding 4,590,000 in .21 seconds. Yet the majority of what is written about Flannery O'Connor concerns the literary criticism of her work, not her biography. And, if you take Ms. O'Connor at face value, there's not a lot to say. Brad Gooch, author of "Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor, published in 2009, chose the O'Connor's own words as the book's epigraph: "As for biographies, there won't be any biographies of me because, for only one reason, lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy."What Brad Gooch accomplishes in his careful biography, among other things, is to show that Miss O'Connor was a droll wit and a master of understatement. It's not surprising that Flannery O'Connor spoke about time spent in the chicken yard. From a young age, Flannery was a collector of rare varieties of chickens. Her first claim to fame was Pathe' News showing up at her Savannah, Georgia home to film six year old Flannery and one of her precious chickens which she had taught to walk backwards. Well, it was 1931. The country was in a depression. Pathe' was known for its, shall we say, lighthearted news reels shown before feature films to poor folks looking for cheap entertainment.O'Connor was fortunate to have been born into a wealthy family, at least on her mother's side, the Clines. Father, Edward O'Connor, was tall and had the good looks, but his social background lacked the ethereal realm of the Clines. After all, the Cline's laid claim to Aunt Katie Semmes who had been married to Raphael Semmes, the son of the famous, or infamous, Confederate naval raider during the recent unpleasantness between the states.Born in 1925, in Savannah, Flannery was a daddy's girl. There was always a distance between Flannery and her mother, Regina. Father Edward doted on his little girl. He was the purchaser of the unusual menagerie of chickens of which Flannery was so fond. Flannery would draw pictures and write little notes to her father. He would share them with friends and co-workers.In the boom before the depression, Ed O'Connor became a successful realtor and builder. The crash put an end to that. He pulled on family connections to secure a position with the earliest form of the Federal Housing Agency. That entailed moving to Atlanta. O'Connor rented a cottage in Buckhead, specifically selecting the house because it overlooked the duck pond which he knew would provide hours of entertainment for Flannery.But death came for Ed O'Connor at a young age. Lupus killed him at age 45. Flannery was 15. Her father's death devastated her.Mother Regina took her husband's death in stride. She moved Flannery to the old Cline family farm called Andalusia just outside of Millidgeville, Georgia. It was there that Flannery would spend most of her life.Regina was a domineering mother. She selected suitable companions for her daughter. She selected the schools she would attend. Flannery graduated from Peabody College and went on to Georgia State College for Women, graduated in an accelerated program of three years. Here, Flannery demonstrated a flair for art and the beginnings of a writer. She aspired to be a cartoonist. Her technique was production of images through linoleum cuts. There were easier methods, but Flannery always sought perfection no matter how difficult the technique required.As difficult as it was for Regina to allow Flannery to go, Flannery was accepted for a coveted place in the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She went there with the intention of studying journalism. However, under the tutelage of Paul Engel, Flannery turned to fiction. Engel was her greatest supporter. He wrote that O'Connor could walk past a pool hall and describe every sight, sound and smell that emanated from the place. O'Connor landed a contract with Harcourt, Brace & Jovanovich for her first novel, "Wise Blood." Because she wrote at a snail's pace and constantly revised, edited and redrafted chapter after chapter, the first novel was seven years in production. HB&J lost interest. However, Robert Giroux had left Harcourt and gone to what would eventually become FS&G. Giroux would be the moving force behind the publication of "Wise Blood."Critics were widely divided in their reception of O'Connor's first novel. During that time, it was not required that reviewers identify themselves. Hiding behind the title of their publications, "The New Yorker" and "Time Magazine" anonymous critics blasted O'Connor's first work. Other reviewers recognized that America had a new and most unusual writer on their hands. Back home in Milledgeville, Flannery's novel was a quandary in the realm of social reaction. How could Mary Flannery O'Connor, a good young Catholic lady of good family create a character of the nature of Hazel Motes? The obligatory tea parties, which Flannery despised, were given. The question then became what to do with Flannery's book so graciously inscribed to the guests at those tea parties. It was a puzzle. Even the men in town had their own opinion. One physician was heard to say, "Well, I'll tell you one thing. That young woman doesn't know what goes on in a whore house." I suppose that was some small comfort to the more genteel citizens, if that word ever got back to them.But "Wise Blood" had brought Flannery freedom. She became a member of the Yaddo Artists' colony where she befriended poet Robert Lowell. Robert and Sally Fitzgerald were fast friends. While at Yaddo, Flannery would turn her attention to the short story. It was here that stories such as "The Life You Save May be Your Own" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find" began to take shape.In 1955, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" appeared as an anthology with nine other stories, including her first O.Henry first prize stories. Life for Flannery O'Connor was looking up.However, Flannery's health was poor. Her mother Regina saw to it that she received all the necessary medical tests. Regina told her she had arthritis. Eventually, Flannery would learn from a friend in whom her mother had confided that it wasn't arthritis, it was Lupus.It was after O'Connor's discovery of her true illness that Gooch reveals a portrait of a woman who never flinched at the knowledge she had inherited the illness that killed her father. O'Connor rarely let her illness break her routine.Flannery was up at six, praying Prime from the breviary. She dressed and attended mass. By nine a.m. she was seated at her writing desk in her room at Andalusia. She wrote from nine to noon. By the end of three hours of constant writing, her illness left her fatigued. On those days she felt well, she would receive guests on the porch of Andalusia approximately 3:30 till 5p.m.O'Connor entered the lecture circuit constantly appearing at colleges and writers' forums discussing such topics as "The Catholic Southern Writer," "The Grotesque in Southern Fiction," and other similar topics her works had given rise to question.During it all, Flannery thought she had found time for love. The Librarians, bless their hearts, had seen fit to introduce a young Dane, Erik Lankgjear, a text book salesman on the southern route. Erik became known as Flannery's boyfriend. However, he had other plans. Eventually, he returned to Denmark, delayed his return ostensibly for extended studies in literature, and finally sent Flannery and engagement notice announcing his forthcoming marriage. Flannery graciously responded she would welcome him and his bride in hers and her mother's home.Although no one can know for sure, Flannery was kissed once and only once by the traveling book salesman. He found it less than pleasing. And, yes. He kissed and told. In an interview with Christopher O'Hare, Langkjear said, "As our lips touched I had a feeling that her mouth lacked resilience, as if she had no real muscle tension in her mouth, a result being that my own lips touched her teeth rather than lips, and this gave me an unhappy feeling of a sort of memento mori>...So I had the feeling of kissing a skeleton." Ah, how gallant.Living and writing in relative isolation from the time she discovered she was suffering from Lupus, O'Connor never stopped working. She frequently traveled, lecturing English Literature Students, and was a regular guest at the Cheney residence in Nashville, Tennessee, where she rubbed elbows with Robert Penn Warren, whom she called "Red." Peter Taylor, Allen Tate and others were regular readers for O'Connor. She delighted in performing "A Good Man is Hard to Find."In 2007 O'Connor's private letters were released, providing Brad Gooch with a wealth of information previously unknown about O'Connor's life, philosophy, and her creative process. Brad Gooch was a patient biographer. He held off attempting to write this biography out of respect for Sally Fitzgerald who claimed she intended on publishing her biography of O'Connor. Yet, when Fitzgerald died at age 83, no manuscript was found. Gooch's work was well worth the wait.Above everything else, Gooch has shown us the living human being behind a relatively short collection of work. And he has shown us how other well known authors perceived her. We have her opinions of them as well.Pointing to his copy of "A Good Man is Hard to Find," William Faulkner exclaimed, "Now that's some good stuff." Carson McCullers despised her. Flannery's feeling for McCullers was on par. Truman Capote and Tennessee Williams made her plumb sick.When it was suggested to T.S. Eliot that he should publish "A Good Man is Hard to Find" in England, he dutifully read the book and declined. Eliot responded his nerves just couldn't take Miss O'Connor. Well, keep calm and carry on.Under the surface of Flannery O'Connor's writing life lie her feelings for her domineering mother. One friend, when asked what Flannery would do without her mother replied she'd be lost. She'd lose half her material. No doubt, Flannery killed off her mother repeatedly in various and sundry ways through a number of stories.Regina is the stand in for the grandmother who would have been a good woman if there'd have been somebody there to shoot her every day. After Regina converted Andalusia from a dairy farm to a beef farm, Flannery wrote her O.Henry prize winning "Green Leaf," wherein the protagonist lady farmer is gored to death by one of her prized bulls. When asked how her mother would feel about her numerous demises within the pages of Flannery's stories, she blithely remarked, "Oh, she never reads my stuff."Shortly before her death, editor Robert Giroux visited Flannery and Regina at Andalusia. Giroux was net at the gate by mother and daughter. Flannery's tremendous flock of peacocks and pea fowl made the journey to the house seem interminable. That evening at the dinner table, Regina asked Giroux, "Isn't there some way you might get Flannery to right about nice people?" Flannery found no humor in the conversation.O'Connor was well aware of the potential of violence in humanity. Her philosophy regarding such frank depictions of it was that people for the most part were so inured to its occurrence that they had to be slapped in the face to see it and do something about it. She and Peckinpaugh most likely would have gotten along famously.Flannery completed one of her finest stories, "Revelation" close to the time of her death. In her hospital bed she kept a notebook in which she was penning her last story, "Parker's Back." These and other stories were published posthumously in her final anthology, "Everything That Rises Must Converge."Flannery O'Connor died August 3, 1964. She was thirty-nine years old. She was buried the next day at Memory Hill Cemetery in Millidgeville, Georgia. Today, Andalusia is a public shrine. Whether one will find any chickens that walk backward is a question that one must determine alone.In 1971, Robert Giroux published "The Complete Short Stories of Flannery O'Connor." It won the National Book Award in 1972. Robert Giroux accepted the award on her behalf. Backstage a celebrated author, whom Gooch had the good grace not to name, complained to Giroux,"Do you really think Flannery O'Connor was a great writer? She's such a Roman Catholic." Giroux responded, "I'm surprised at you, to misjudge her so completely. If she were here, she'd set you straight. She'd impress you. You'd have a hard time out-talking her."In truth, O'Connor would have said, "Whoever invented cocktail parties should be drawn and quartered." In 1988, the Library of America chose Flannery O'Connor as the first author born in the 20th Century who works would be published in this canonical selection of writings. That book stays on my bedside table.

  • Carol
    2019-05-09 12:24

    While I am not an avid fan of Flannery O’Connor’s work, I do recognize that she was one of the best American writers of short fiction. This book is the story of a gifted and complicated woman who was determined to persevere despite her differences and her disability, which cut her life short. The book begins with the image of a five year old Flannery and her chickens being filmed by Pathe Newsreel Company. Why film this? Because how many little girls do you know who could teach chickens to walk backwards? Only Flannery could do that. She had a love of birds and later raised peacocks. She was born in Savannah, Georgia and the only child of Edward O’Connor (unsuccessful real estate agent) and his wife, Regina. 1n 1937 her father was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus and which led to his death in 1941. Flannery, 15 years old, was devastated. She lived reclusively with her mother at Andalusia, the family farm in Milledgeville, Ga.After graduating high school, she went to Georgia State College for Woman. She had a brief stint as a cartoonist at the College and graduated with a degree in Social Science. In 1946 she was accepted in the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop at the University of Iowa, where she first went to study journalism. While there she got to know several important writers and critics who lectured or taught in the program, among them Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Robie Macauley, Austin Warren and Andrew Lytle. Some of her stories and cartoons were published in the Sewanee Review. In 1949, she stayed with Robert and Sally Fitzgerald in Redding, CT. She propelled herself at the Yaddo, the artists’ colony in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. When she went to the Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, she said, she “didn’t know a short story from an ad in the newspaper.” Yet she quickly became a star there and “scared the boys to death with her irony,” as a teacher put it.In 1951, she was she was diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus, and returned home to her ancestral farm, Andalusia, in GA. She was given crutches, started with hair loss, and a “watermelon” face. She stated, “I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense, sickness is a place more instructive than a long trip to Europe.” O’Connor was deeply religious. She was a devout Catholic, a strange thing to be in Georgia. From the very beginning of her life she was already an outsider. Along with her fatal illness, her other main influence was God. Right to the end, she attended daily mass at 7am, fifth pew on the right. “Although she was a devout Catholic, almost all of her characters, haunted, tested, and redeemed, are Protestant.” Although she was expected to live only five more years, she managed fourteen. In 1964 Flannery O’Connor, died at the age of 39. She had published thirty-one stories and two novels. Reading this book was very inspiring to me, since I live with the same diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus.

  • Book Riot Community
    2019-05-21 14:28

    O’ Connor is a personal favorite, and this biography captures a great deal of what was both endearing and tragic about a woman who produced some of the most enduring and transformative fiction to emerge from the United States before her death from lupus at age 39. Gooch gives Flannery’s wit, faith, and guarded nature plenty of ink, and in doing so captures what continues to draw so many to her work. And the work – deservedly – remains central throughout. Her stories remained her focus even until the end, and it’s Gooch’s commitment to those stories and the soul that O’ Connor poured into them that makes Flannery such a great portrait of such a great writer.- Josh CormanFrom Our Favorite Biographies of Dead Writers:

  • Cheryl
    2019-04-27 11:11

    I write only about two hours every day because that's all the energy I have, but I don't let anything interfere with those two hours, at the same time and the same place...something goes on that makes it easier when it does come well. And the fact is if you don't sit there every day, the day it would come well, you won't be sitting there. This piecing together of snippets from Flannery O'Connor's writing life was my favorite takeaway from the biography. The entire narrative reads like a smorgasbord of quotes and correspondence--which at times gets exhaustive. Yet there are many instances where encouraging revelations pierce the narrative. It was interesting to learn that the idea for this book first came about when the biographer Brad Gooch reached out to Sally Fitzgerald (a family friend of the O'Connor family) and stated his interest in writing the biography and she sort of snuffed him. She was writing a biography that could overlap, she told him, adding that "should she ever feel the need of an assistant" she would think of him. Decades later, still no book. Fitzgerald had died with an unfinished manuscript. So the man who considered O'Connor his favorite fiction writer, decided to write the story of her life.While the story is partly a sad one because Flannery O'Connor died at age thirty-nine from lupus (a condition in which the immune system forms antibodies that attacks its own connective tissue), it is also an inspirational story. If you like O'Connor's short stories or if you admire stories from the south and love hearing of the intermingling of Southern writers, you would enjoy reading this. It is also the writer's read because you get to see young Flannery develop into a writer: spending time writing at a MFA program and as a writing fellow. She was a feisty recluse who spent so much time perfecting her writing skills, that she was confident in it. You get that writing became her companion: "When she was alone, she would pull down the shades and sit at her typewriter with a pile of yellow paper, writing and rewriting. If she wasn't writing, she was reading."

  • M. Sarki
    2019-05-12 15:30 is not hard to imagine there being countless more people than I who are complete opposites of Mary Flannery O'Connor. To think she was such a serious Catholic who almost never missed a 7AM mass unless she was sick enough to be in hospital or on her death bed. To imagine she never ever had sex with anyone, and the only time she ever came close was in the awful tooth kiss she had with an early male suitor. At least if we believe the writings of her biographer, Brad Gooch, who portrayed our Miss O'Connor in the most dreadful of terms as if she were a story written for a newspaper flash. The facts went on and on, if they were indeed the facts, and the reportage never ceased to not overwhelm me. Flannery O'Connor was character enough to overwhelm anyone who got to know her. It is obvious the reader of this biography never will. In my own confession I admit to reading O'Connor only in the company of A Good Man Is Hard To Find and having little interest in reading much else the woman wrote. But that story of The Misfit alone was worth all the tea in China, given that I am not the least concerned with tea or the money I could make off it. Let's just say for the sake of argument that Flannery wasn't interested in men or women sexually, that she was obsessed with her bible and theological studies, and the birds and her mother gave her all the attention she actually required. Let's say that writing gave her the impetus to go on living. That fame was a fleeting romance she never wanted to advance past the occasional lecture or public reading of her work required by her publishers. But what kind of story is that? And remember, Flannery herself said her life wouldn't be one for biographers anyway as all it mostly consisted of was her daily round trip from the steps off her kitchen onto the path toward the hen house. Her biographer, Brad Gooch, has been acclaimed and his work featured in numerous magazines. He is a professor of English at William Paterson University. He earned his PhD at Columbia University. But he writes like a lady wannabe all made up in furs and dangling gaudy jewelry. I felt as if I was reading a society gossip column instead of an academic work of high stature. Gooch was even pretentious enough to use the ghastly word "genuflected" at least twice too many times. In previous criticism of other works I have argued how necessary it is for the writer of creative non-fiction to invest something of himself in the book, to make it personal. Writers such as Paul Hendrickson (Hemingway's Boat) would have been a better choice for a more compelling and interesting story about Flannery O'Connor. At the very least the sex would have been better. One example regards the relationship between O'Connor and Erik Langkjaer. Their relationship was becoming quite intimate according to this biographer. From the quoted words of Langkjaer we learn that Flannery was remarkably inexperienced sexually for a woman of her age. She was quite prepared to receive a kiss from Erik when he initially made his advance to do so. But what he found was a feeling as if kissing a skeleton. The woman was stiff, her mouth lacked resilience, and his own lips touched her teeth rather than her lips. They were interrupted by a stray couple from a nearby parked car who poked their heads in, which Flannery seemed to be overjoyed in with the disturbance. Needless to say the relationship between the couple was different from then on, and Erik Langkjaer went on to marry someone else and keep a geographical distance from O'Connor though they remained pen pals for some time after the awkward incident. But why didn't Gooch handle the story better? Surely there are anecdotes regarding all her intimate relationships that Gooch could have researched and offered another point of view. There was nothing of Gooch in this book and that is where he failed. The biographer has to have a stake in what he is writing about. He has to make it personal. After reading this book, Flannery O'Connor remains for me at least as large a mystery now as she was before I started. This book was basically straight reporting, and how reliable it is could be debatable. She obviously had a few friends who could have offered more had their own stories been brought to the page as Paul Hendrickson is want to do with the subjects he chooses to write and learn about. But Brad Hooch obviously doesn't care about his subject. But he'll take the acclaim and the rewards that the literati deems fitting for an academic the stature of a Brad Hooch, which isn't saying much for the rest of the serious, and more creative, literary world. Some might say I am being too harsh with Brad Hooch, but I am harsh with others and Brad Hooch does not get special treatment from me because of somebody else's agenda which may or may not hurt me. And for the record I have been equally hard on another biographer much more highly respected than the anointed Brad Hooch. Walter Isaacson, in his biography of Steve Jobs, gave us straight reportage, and though Isaacson had a very interesting subject who could, and did, carry the book just on his own terms and face of who he was, Isaacson did nothing creative in the telling of the more complex story possible. In other words, Isaacson put nothing of himself on the page. He never got personal. I have been also equally harsh with translators such as the well-known editor, poet, and translator Jonathan Galassi who translated the poems of Eugenio Montale brilliantly but can't write a poem of his own worth salt. Or how about the translator George Zsirtes whom I think brilliant in his work on Laszlo Krasznahorkai but awful in his translation of Sandor Marai? Fact is, I want more. I want a new biography of Flannery O'Connor that makes me want to read her propaganda, something solid that makes me believe in her church, more proof that we all are sinners, and that sex is bad or it isn't, or that having friends is even worse. Yes, give me that book and I will write a favorable review of it.

  • Jamie
    2019-05-03 12:23

    I'm never certain how to judge biographies, especially when--as is the case with this one--there's not much to compare it to (unlike, say, bios of Sylvia Plath, when there are about four trillion, and most of them are awful). Nevertheless, I think I can safely five-star this one. 'Flannery' has a bit of a slow start, and you think for a moment that perhaps Ms. O'Connor was right--that her personal history wasn't worthy of a biography. But more likely, Gooch simply didn't have a lot of material to work with from her childhood, and the first chapter or so became histories of Milledgeville or O'Connor's ancestry--which, frankly, just wasn't as intriguing to me as she was. But there are three things, among many, that this biography notably accomplishes: one, Gooch creates an engaging and sensible 'narrative' for her life--the chapters almost work thematically, even though the book is organized chronologically; two, it preserves the complexities of O'Connor's life and her views (particularly on the 'race problem,' the stirrings of the Civil Rights movement in Georgia, as well as her views on homosexuality, particularly through her relationships with Maryat Lee and Betty Hester); and three, it captures the incredible humor O'Connor injects into her bleakest works and allows us to laugh with her, even in the face of seemingly terrible ordeals, while maintaining her dignity through it all.I don't know about you, but reading a biography is, for me, an opportunity to make a new friend--I truly begin, when a biography is good that is, to feel as though I 'know' the subject of the book. I feel really fortunate to have been able to 'befriend' Flannery for the week or so it took me to work through this. Perhaps more strange is my perpetual sadness when I come to deaths in biographies--this happened with every Plath bio I've read, with Diane Middlebrook's wonderful bio on Anne Sexton, with a work on Emily Bronte--I always seem to feel that something will work out differently, if I've invested enough into their lives. That perhaps this time, Sylvia and Anne won't gas themselves; that Emily won't become ill at Branwell's funeral; that Flannery's lupus won't fatally flare up after her surgery. It's always a shock to come to that moment in a biography, for me, and perhaps that just makes me slightly insane. I'm not sure. But to me, this is also the test of whether or not a biography has succeeded--if I'm so concerned with changing the ending, there must have been something there that held me along the way.Gooch is a powerful writer, who perhaps has a bit of an agenda, but I think justifiably so. A couple of reviews here have said that they felt he hated Flannery, which is a criticism I couldn't disagree more with. I think Gooch has a great love of her, but manages (quite well, I should add) to balance the affection with a critical distance. As I said, perhaps the most significant accomplishment of this biography is that he brought her back to life, all of her contradictions intact. Not to mention the fact that I was laughing aloud up until mere pages before Flannery died (she evidently referred to Andalusia at this point, with three members of the family rehabilitating in the house, as 'Jolly Corners Rest Home'). In short, it's a great book--even if you're not all that familiar with her work. For instance, I've only read her collection "A Good Man is Hard to Find"--but thankfully, the biography has inspired me to return to those stories and finally get around to the rest of her work (which has sat on my shelves for well nigh a year now) this year. Would have been among my favorite books of last year if I'd finished in time, but it should easily be among my faves for 2010. Highly recommended.

  • Mike
    2019-04-22 15:09

    Brad Gooch has written a totally engaging biopic on one of the 20th Century's greatest writers. Flannery herself thought her life too dull to ever have any biographies written about it, but Professor Gooch rewards us with a story both tragic and beautiful. That Flannery died at age 39 from lupus is one of the greater tragedies in literary history. Much like the talk about Mozart, the mind shudders at the thought of all the work she might have produced had she been allowed to live. Nevertheless, what she left is fantastic. Gooch delves into O'Connor's early childhood in Savannah, Georgia, as well as giving an overview of her Catholic schooling up to her undergraduate years. From there it's on to the University of Iowa, then Manhattan and Yaddo, where she makes an impression on the likes of Robert Lowell. Alas it is at this moment where her illness begins to take shape, and like many of her young characters, she is forced to return home to her mother in Milledgeville, Georgia, where she will live out the rest of her days. Unlike say Jay Parini's recent bio on Faulkner, Professor Gooch does not examine O'Connor's stories in great laser beam fashion. That is, he covers each short story for the most part in a cursory way. This by no means detracts from the biography, and probably helps the general reader. However, those of us who have read and reread O'Connor's work, would appreciate a stronger look at each story, as well as her two novels. No matter, there are books out there that deal exclusively with O'Connor's canon. I guess I'll just have to travel to New Jersey and take one of Professor Gooch's classes at William Paterson University. This biography on Flannery O'Connor is highly recommended.

  • Bookmarks Magazine
    2019-05-07 12:30

    The gifted O'Connor once stated that she would merit no biography because "lives spent between the house and the chicken yard do not make exciting copy." Brad Gooch, however, has done a thorough job teasing out the details of O'Connor's short life and enduring legacy. Although gracious and polite, Gooch was nonetheless admonished by critics for skimming over some of the more eyebrow-raising aspects of her life, such as the question of her sexuality and her contentious relationship with her mother. Others complained that Gooch neglected to properly analyze O'Connor's work and the genesis of her distinctive style. Perhaps the gifted O'Connor will always elude our attempts to understand her, and readers unfamiliar with the author should turn to her work; however, her fans will come away from Flannery with a enhanced appreciation for her achievements.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine.

  • Holly
    2019-05-10 09:04

    Not a cultural biography in that Gooch never broadened his focus to describe the context of O'Connor's times and milieu (except in the cursory paragraphs about Catholic theology, the Deep South, and race-relations), and little or no discussion of O'Connor's writing (except for the inspirations for stories/novels and work habits). As such it was a fast read of names, dates, and places, leaving me helplessly armed with new trivia about O'Connor's friendships, her difficult mother, her devotion to writing, her love of peafowl, and, unfortunately, her closed-mindedness. This last troubles me, and I need to to reconcile my new feelings with my prior conception of her (the one I formed reading her in college). It's similar to having one's image of an author slightly dashed by attending an author-reading or lecture - I'll get over it once I remember how much more complicated we are than can be captured in a literary biography or a first impression on a particular night in a life. Her wisdom shines in the stories and novels. But I wish I'd just sat down with Paul Elie's group cultural/religious biography of Percy, Merton, Day, and O'Connor, which is on my to-read list. To begin Wise Blood in a few days for a book discussion.

  • Kurt
    2019-05-04 16:29

    Probably as good a biography of Flannery O'Connor as we're ever going to get, but very little in the way of deep insights -- which is not to fault Brad Gooch; O'Connor was a very private person and Gooch has covered the ground as well as anyone ever will. In a perfect world, Gooch would annotate a new edition of Sally Fitzgerald's book of O'Connor's correspondence, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor, which would become essentially the only thing you would need to read on O'Connor beyond the work.

  • Matt
    2019-05-04 13:29

    I'm a big fan of MFOC from way back and this book really elegantly and smoothly gave the what on the who that was Ms O'Connor...he has a light touch, which is quite a grace, and is smoothly readable and very informative. She is a notoriously tricky writer and so getting his take on her spirituality, race relations, work ethic, irony and wickedly cracked and wise personality was a joy. Very much what you want a biography to be

  • Peggy Hilliard
    2019-05-07 10:16

    Probably the finest biography I've read of anyone. This book is a must for O'Connor fans.

  • Kimberly Harris
    2019-05-08 11:06

    It took me a while to get through this book and while it wasn't exactly gripping, it made me fall in love with Flannery. She is one of the most important American authors who stands in a genre of her own making. There is no one like her. I admired her stories, but this biography made me admire her. Likely to no one's surprise she was a unique and singular person. Both shy and independent, she didn't care about social norms growing up in the deep south. She would rather be doing her own thing than showing up at any social event at school or university. She loved talking intently one-on-one with friends, but would give the cold shoulder to those she didn't care for. More then that, early on she discovered a calling for her life - to write. She knew she could be good, she just didn't know whether anyone else would appreciate her writing. As opportunities and mentors expanded her world, she carefully worked on crafting her stories. Her writing process involved rewriting, rewriting, and rewriting. I don't think there was ever a more careful writer. And as her popularity grew, so did her desire to set the record straight on what her stories were really about. (They aren't simple stories, and people interpret them in wildly different ways.) So she began to give lectures on her writing, on being a Catholic in a Protestant south, and how faith directed her writing. She all of this while grappling with lupus - a disease then that was fatal - and living with her racist and controlling mother who didn't understand her work. She made a place for herself by putting her energy towards theology and her faith, her writing, and then welcoming friends into her and her mother's home. The friendships she did have were robust and thoughtful. Her quirky sense of humor shows up in one of her short stories where she skewers the boyfriend who jilted her as well as herself. While her stories are gothic and often hard to read because of the violence and darkness in them, Flannery was out to prove that even in the darkest moments of this broken life, grace can break through. Her own life wasn't easy, but grace broke through it too. She lived a quiet, sickly life, but out of it wrote some of the most well regarded short stories ever written. She wrote those stories as an outworking of her faith, knowing that many people wouldn't understand the deeper meanings of her stories. All of this made me admire the person behind her writing. I also want to re-read some of her work as I feel like I will appreciate it even more now.

  • Jason Robinson
    2019-05-04 13:16

    The bio was good, but not quite as intriguing as Flannery's work itself. A good Catholic girl at heart, no telling what O'Connor would have gone on to accomplish had she not died prematurely at 39 of Lupus.

  • Carmel Elizabeth
    2019-05-09 15:23

    Flannery is a excellent author, but this book falls short of doing her justice. Also, the author randomly switches into his own prose, narrating pivotal scenes of O'Connors life in a way that seems fake and out of place. Still, I always enjoy learning more about the people I admire.

  • Matt
    2019-04-23 10:10

    Criminy, what a boring bio. As if to compensate for Flannery O'Connor's short life (the author succumbed to Lupus at the age of 39), Brad Gooch seemed determined to flesh out this book by minutely describing every bit of correspondence, every meeting, even the architectural details of every home and school she ever stepped in. Not my cup of mint julep, I'm afraid.

  • Charles Matthews
    2019-05-11 15:18

    Postwar American fiction in the 1940s, '50s and '60s was dominated by men, and particularly by Jewish men: Bellow, Malamud, Mailer, Heller, Roth. But Brad Gooch's new biography serves as a reminder that one of the most original and enduring of that era's writers was a Catholic woman.Reading Flannery O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood, Caroline Gordon discovered “a Catholic novelist with a real dramatic sense, one who relies more on her technique than her piety.” Other critics of O'Connor's debut were less discerning than Gordon, who became a friend and mentor to O'Connor. Time magazine called the book “arty” and the Saturday Review found it “sheer monotony.” As her editor, Robert Giroux, observed, many reviewers “recognized her power but missed her point.” O'Connor was unfazed, but the experience did skew her in the direction of writing short stories because, she said, “nobody pays attention to them.... When you publish a novel, the racket is like a fox in the henhouse.”But in time, the clucks and squawks of the reviewers would subside, and the literary world would echo with praise for O'Connor's wry, dark, seriocomic tales of fallen, fallible, sometimes brutal but always redeemable humanity. After the reception of Wise Blood, she vowed to write about “folks” rather than “freaks” in her next book, but in truth, the two were rarely distinguishable from one another in her work.Some of the original misunderstanding of O'Connor's work may have stemmed from the fact that she was a “regional” writer in the “Southern gothic” mode, a school of writing she characterized as “unhappy combinations of Poe and Erskine Caldwell.” She resisted being pigeonholed into a subgenre of Southern women writers, along with Eudora Welty and Carson McCullers. (She admired Welty, but destested McCullers' works, calling her novel Clock Without Hands “the worst book I have ever read.”) She also disliked being compared to the South's most celebrated writer: “I keep clear of Faulkner so my own little boat won't get swamped,” she said, although Gooch points out passages in O'Connor's work that clearly reverberate with As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury and “Barn Burning.”In the end, she found her own justification for regionalism in the Catholic theology she read so deeply and assiduously. Teilhard de Chardin saw the Incarnation as “a single event ... developing in the world,” an idea that, Gooch tells us, O'Connor integrated into her aesthetic: “a cosmic presence in local material lay behind her own arguing for regional writing.” She also took to heart the advice of Jacques Maritain: “Do not make the absurd attempt to sever in yourself the artist and the Christian.” Nevertheless, her work shocked many of those who otherwise shared her world view; T.S. Eliot remarked that he had been “quite horrified” by the O'Connor stories he had read: “She has certainly an uncanny talent of a high order but my nerves are just not strong enough to take much of a disturbance.”Gooch has done an admirable job of telling the story of a writer whose life was not crowded with incident or studded with glamour. He richly evokes the milieus in which O'Connor lived and worked: from small town Georgia to the writing program at the University of Iowa to the writers' retreat at Yaddo, and back to Georgia again, where the reception to her first book, Wise Blood, was decidedly uneasy. Her cousin Katie Semmes had the publishers send copies of Wise Blood to priests in her parish, then “went to bed for a week” after she read it herself, “penning notes of apology to all the priests who received copies.” There were “lovely teas and luncheons” celebrating the author, at which, one observer noted, “Everybody was glad that she'd got something published, but one did wish that it had been something ladylike.” The local reaction was epitomized by O'Connor's mother, Regina, completely baffled by her daughter's work but fiercely protective of her nevertheless.But best of all, Flannery gives us Flannery: keen-sighted, witty, devout and indomitable despite her long suffering from the disease, lupus, that took her life much too early, at the age of 39. This is one of those rare literary biographies that make the writer almost as fascinating as what she wrote.

  • Travis
    2019-04-27 13:06

    It could be that I love Flannery so much that I'm a bit blinded, but I loved this book. I tore through it in a few days like it was a thriller. My love and appreciation for Flannery has grown exponetially. Very thankful for this book.

  • Estelle
    2019-04-25 13:12

    Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) was a Southern Writer and lifelong devout Roman Catholic, both of which characteristics were food for her body of work - two novels and many short stories. Flannery's creativity emerged early and was recognized at both graduate school at the Iowa Writer's Workshop at University of Iowa and at Yaddo, a writer's retreat in upstate NY. During this period she wrote what was to become her first novel, Wise Blood. Once she was established as a writer with a body of published work, she often gave lectures on writing fiction.O'Connor had many supporters and detractors. Despite the misunderstood subject matter of her stories, often containing violence and cruelty, she remained true to her faith and morality, saying in one of her many presentations on writing "If the writer is as an artist, his moral judgment will coincide with his dramatic judgment. It will be inseparable from the very act of seeing." For Flannery morality meant conveying a vision. She spent hours editing her stories in order to convey that vision. She kept up a lively correspondence with friends and colleagues. But also served as a mentor to aspiring writers, many of whom made the initial overture addressed to her simply at Milledgeville, GA, and only some of whom she met in person. To one, a student at the time but later a poet and critic, and who admitted to a crisis of faith, she wrote of "mystery," which had become an important theological concept for her: "Where you have absolute solutions ... you have no need of faith...Mystery isn't something that is gradually evaporating. It grows along with knowledge."She was a contemporary of many southern writers, including William Faulkner, Carson McCullers and Katherine Porter, all of whom knew her and held her in high regard. Diagnosed with lupus in 1951, she carried on most of her literary career with deteriorating health. Her life was cut short in 1964 at age 39. Some accolades at her death, regarding her writing, attest to the impact she made in that short life:Thomas Merton: I write her name with all honor, for all the truth and all the craft with which she shows man's fall and his dishonor.Robert Giroux, her publisher, spoke of her "clear vision" that "not only burns brighter than ever but it burns through the masks of what she called 'blind walls and low dodges of the heart' "When asked why she wrote about freaks, she replied, displaying her considerable wit, "...because we are still able to recognize one."Many articles and books have been written about her and her work. This is but one. It tells of her career, but also gives glimpses of her personal life: her immediate family and extended relations, her school days, and her love of birds, especially peacocks which she kept on her farm. A good overview and introduction to to an iconic writer.

  • Tony
    2019-05-22 16:15

    Gooch, Brad. FLANNERY: A Life of Flannery O’Connor. (2009). ****. O’Connor is one of my favorite writers, and I have often re-read her two novels and many short stories with pleasure. I was also pleased that “The Library of America” came out with her collected works recently, which gave me a chance to read my favorite pieces. This biography is certainly well researched, and the author clearly admires and respects O’Connor’s works. What keeps this from being a great biography, rather than just a very good one, is the amount of throw-away material that the author chose to include. If you can ignore the long passages that relate daily events in the author’s life to scenes in one or another short story – the work of a graduate student seeking a degree – the sections that cover O’Connor’s life and beliefs are well worth reading. O’Connor was typically described as a “Catholic writer from the Protestant South.” Her characters are usually misfits of one type or another, but reflect her serious contemplation of her faith. She developed Lupus at about age 29 – a repeat of her father’s illness that lead to his early death – and had diminished physical capacity up to the time of her death at age 39. She fancied birds, especially peacocks, and had her first public exposure in a Pathe newsreel clip when she was five years old. A photographer had come down to her farm to film her exploits in teaching a chicken to walk backwards. The clip only lasted for a few seconds, because the chicken was uncooperative, but she managed to snare the rest of her fifteen minutes of fame with her subsequent writings. Her writing was not necessarily understood by her readers. She was basically classed as a Southern Gothic writer. It was not until she met up with Robert Giroux and he became her editor and publisher that her writing met its match in understanding. She once said, “When I am asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it’s because we are still able to recognize one.” Recommended.

  • El
    2019-05-05 09:28

    What I love most about Flannery O'Connor is that she rarely agreed with anything anyone ever said about her or her writing, whether positive or negative comments. While reading this first formal exclusive look at O'Connor's life and work I thought about that, and how she would probably hate everything Brad Gooch wrote about her. That does not necessarily make Gooch a bad biographer, nor does it make this a bad biography; but it did help me take a lot of what was written with a grain of salt.Gooch does an incredible job detailing O'Connor's life, from her childhood in Savannah (down to the very grades she received and her opinions on her classes) to her time in Iowa to her relationships with men and the near possibility of a woman or two. He illustrates the lupus that killed her father and ultimately killed her at 39, and while her sickness and pain was an important factor into her character, Gooch managed to make it a Frida Kahlo moment in literary history which could be more for the glory of the issue than any significant truth.The problem I did have with this biography is the amount of tedious information that Gooch managed to unearth and then put a fancy spin on it to try to shed light on why O'Connor wrote such-and-such story. A considerable amount of time was spent discussing her novel, Wise Blood A Novel, in exactly that manner, to the point that even I - a rather large fan of O'Connor's - wanted to say "Enough already!"The photographic inserts were a great addition, however, considering this being the first published O'Connor biography a lot of the photos were not accessible to the public previously. Gooch did his research and obviously did it well. I did occasionally wonder his motivation behind the book: intelligent fan or money-seeker? I hate to be immediately skeptical but I think even Ms. O'Connor would have been as well.

  • Miriam
    2019-05-15 11:03

    In the words of the eternally inarticulate (although you TOTALLY know what he means) Randy Jackson this was just "alright" for me. It was "pitchy in parts."Ok...enough with the Randy metaphor. I expected a LOT from this book and in some ways it delivered. Actually, to continue with the music/TV metaphor for one more moment (which I'm sure would be horrifying to both Flannery O'Connor AND Brad Gooch--sorry...) it's kind of like "Behind the Music." I always like the part BEFORE they get famous more than after. So, I actually adored the early parts of the story--finding out about her youth and her relationship with her father. I loved knowing about how she did in school and her artistic talents and her oddball cartoons that she drew in college. My favorite part was the Iowa/Yaddo part, the way that a person develops as a writer is always of great interest to me...for obvious reasons.And then once she published WISE BLOOD, I was totally bored. I picked up a bit of interest when Gooch goes into a bit of detail about her friendship with Betty Hester. But it never got deep enough for me. I feel like I learned so more about her from the few letters I read out of THE HABIT OF BEING.That's not to say that I don't admire the craftmanship here and the obvious research as well as overarching literary analysis that went along with almost every sentence. I appreciated those things...but I also kind of skimmed them.So overall, it was pitchy for me. It went up and down. I was really, really enthralled with some parts and skimmed over others. I did very much appreciate, however, learning the background of Flannery's makes her stories feel even more great to me than they did before.It also reminded me of how good UTOPIA PARKWAY is of a attempts similar things--to describe the almost entirely uneventful life of a great artist (in that case, Joseph Cornell.) I recommend it highly.

  • Danny
    2019-04-29 09:21

    Brad Gooch chronicles the writer at home, and at home. Flannery O'Connor, ill with Lupus, was oft confined to her home, a spread in Georgia called Andalusia. When she goes north it's an interesting and touching journey, one that naturally extended from her writing output (Iowa Workshop, the Yaddo retreat, here home of many an artsy person's breakdowns and/or crisis in communism-- O'Connor's friendship w/ poet Robert Lowell stays strong through all this). At a dinner table w/ NY intellectuals she stands up for herself, her own Catholic values ("well if [the Holy Ghost} is just a symbol then to hell with it.") Everywhere she is dedicated to her writing with the seriousness of having a calling. She's very funny. When she was to appear on a book tv show she complained of the unfortunate time slot. She imagines children turning in to see "The Batman" and being disappointed by seeing this woman's icy glare. When her relatives bought her TV she found time to indulge.The biographer is good at creating ambiance even when his source material is left wanting (Flannery was known as a recluse but very open to friends--most intriguing is her relationship with a traveling book salesman from Denmark...) Overall this is a solid entry point to fiction that has challenged generations and remains relevant, strange and spooky. In the film world I see her technique of creating mystery through manners in only one director, PT Anderson, who also shares Catholic origins (though he is a confessed lapsed Catholic).Anyway, Flannery would have traded 100 contemporary readers for one reader a hundred years down the road. In this hope her life's work was not in vain.

  • James Murphy
    2019-04-29 10:03

    I didn't think it was possible. I didn't think reading about Flannery O'Connor could drag. But I have to admit this is pretty dry biography. The primary reasons, I suppose, are what you'd expect: that her life was limited and shortened by the debilitating lupus that killed her and that she lived her truncated life in quiet Catholic devotion. In her mid-20s when diagnosed with lupus, she returned from New York to live out her remaining years on the farm north of Milledgeville, GA managed by her mother. She was a good woman and a great writer, but there weren't many events in her life for a biographer to engage the reader with, even one as experienced as Brad Gooch. He compensates somewhat by spending a lot of time on O'Connor's childhood. His picture of the South during her growing up, particularly of Savannah, is well done. But in the end her simplicity and withdrawal to the farm apparently challenged him. He was unable to wring much from her story. What's most important is that she left her remarkable stories and novels. One of those, Wise Blood, is a favorite of mine. I'm a little disappointed in this. However, I think Gooch's biography, because it's so comprehensive, may be definitive. There's plenty of room, though, for more criticism. Her work is deserving.

  • Linda
    2019-05-11 17:24

    I checked this book out of the library three times but never did finish reading it. Each time I tried to force myself to read more, ennui set in immediately. When a biographer's subject has led a particularly sheltered, uneventful, and dull life, there is only so much that the writer can do to spunk up that particular life without changing the work to fiction. This biographer stays in the realm of nonfiction, but the price for doing so causes the reader to become numbed by the overbearing number of details of Ms. O'Connor's daily life that do nothing more than fill the book's pages with words. The only detail missing is the number of trips that Ms. O'Connor made to the toilet each day of her life. This book was a huge disappointment because Ms. O'Connor's writing is original, unpredictable, and thought provoking. I assumed that her personal life would be reflective of her writing. Alas, they are polar opposites. After reading how dull her real life was, I can only admire Ms. O'Connor's creativity and outside-the-box writing all the more.

  • John
    2019-05-15 13:28

    Gooch fills his biography with a great deal of biographical detail, chronicling events, illnesses, friendships, and reading regimens with admirable care. And in its own way, this gives insight into some of the stories, none more poignant than the biographical details around the composition of her story, "Good Country People." O'Connor's wry sense of humor shines through regularly, as does her passion for theology and philosophy in addition to that of fiction.What I most missed, however, was a more pointed treatment of her work itself. Writers are famous because of their writing. And while Gooch does reflect on certain stories, particularly as they connect with biographical details, I would have liked to see those works more clearly in the light of the impressive array of visits to the farm and notes on life in Savannah.

  • nicole
    2019-04-27 09:19

    i often make the mistake of thinking that just because i love an author's writing i'd love to read about them. a biography is not an easy thing to write when a weighty tome of the author's own letters exists and sadly i don't think gooch did much more than consolidate those with some biographical facts. i don't feel any closer to flannery, nor did any of her searing wit that i so admire come through this book. okay, i'll also admit that much of my dislike is attributed to the series of disasters i had borrowing this as an ebook from the library. but still, i'd have much rather made a more valiant effort to get through the habits of being than to have been swayed by the beautiful cover of this book.

  • Jessica
    2019-05-03 11:03

    This book is very well-researched, but it's lacking a spark. I don't think Brad Gooch gets close enough to his subject. While he should not have made the book entirely about O'Connor's illness - which was, in fact, a serious, ongoing, daily struggle for her - it comes off as a mere side-note (until the end of the book, of course). He also makes superficial comments about some (apparently) important relationships in O'Connor's life, which he could have analyzed better -- i.e. O'Connor's mother, her "boyfriend" Erik, her very close girlfriends, etc. He makes good connections between her fiction and her real life, but it all seems a little tame.

  • Libby
    2019-05-18 17:22

    I've been a fan of Flannery O'Connor since college, which is over 30 years ago. A few years ago I read a biography by Jean Cash, which I also enjoyed. The new one is more comprehensive than the Cash one, but each has some details the other doesn't. Both books showed how rich a life she lead, how many writer friends she had, and "Flannery" especially showed how writers such as Caroline Gordon helped by giving feedback to rough drafts of her stories.