Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor
By Brad Gooch
464 pages; Little, Brown
The author of some of the most brilliant fiction in American literature, Flannery O'Connor, was, according to Brad Gooch's new biography, in many ways like her work: tough-minded, God-haunted, fiercely original, and take-no-prisoners funny. Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor follows its subject from her Depression-era childhood in Savannah through her apprenticeship at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and residency at Yaddo, the legendary artists' colony in upstate New York. Then, just as her literary reputation was on the ascent and she had started to make a life for herself in New York, the onset of an autoimmune disease (from which she would die, at 39) drove O'Connor back to her family farm in Georgia and to the custodial care of her mother, with whom she had a fraught relationship. Flannery is full of information that will come as news to the writer's fans (how amazing that O'Connor, famous for her grotesque, comical characters, originally wanted to be a cartoonist! How astonishing that, as a child, she appeared in a newsreel with a chicken she'd taught to walk backward!). Enlivening the book is Gooch's keen eye for the many real-life inspirations—the small incidents and large events, the acquaintances and loved ones—that this literary master transformed into art.