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 friendshipswith Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Hardwick, Walker Percy, and James Dickey among othersand 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 fullydespite the chronic disease that eventually confined her to her mother's farm in Georgiais illuminated in this engaging and authoritative biography.
In 1958, Flannery O'Connor wrote to her friend Betty Hester: "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 don't make for exciting copy." Brad Gooch's new biography is only the second to appear in the five decades since O'Connor's death of lupus in 1964, at age 39 (the first, by Jean W. Cash, appeared in 2002), perhaps confirming that many scholars were inclined to agree. But to take O'Connor's self-deprecation at face value is to miss the larger cosmic joke: Just as she was able to turn the raw materials of a midccentury small-town southern milieu into stories with the moral and philosophical weight that the writer Thomas Merton could only compare to Sophocles, throughout her deceptively quiet life (spent mostly on her mother's dairy farm in Georgia) the writer herself was fiercely engaged with the writers, thinkers, and culture of her time.