I first read Flannery O’Connor’s short-story masterpiece “A Good Man is Hard to Find” over 30 years ago. In the intervening years I’ve returned to that same story a few times and I’ve read one or two of her other short stories. I’ve bought copies of her collected stories and at least one of her novels. In fact, I think I might have the Library of America edition of her collected works stowed away somewhere in Texas. What I’m describing is a long-term intention to “get into” O’Connor. But I just never got around to it, okay?
Until this weekend, when I read Jonathan Rogers’ The Terrible Speed of Mercy: A Spiritual Biography of Flannery O’Connor. I say I read it; more accurately: I devoured it. I declare the book Unputdownable.
It’s more than a “spiritual” biography, though it certainly is that: I admired her strong faith and her ability to find and expose grace in such shocking ways. Her faith ran deep, not only in the sense of being rooted in her heart, but of being intellectually profound.
But it’s also a literary biography, and the best kind: it made me hungry to read her works and gave me some insights that I believe will help me read and enjoy them better. I’m always grateful for such aid from critics.
And of course it’s a biographical biography, a story of a life, of a personality–a personality I’d like to know. I intend to read her letters as well, since the quotations from those were the best tidbits of the book. I’ll leave you with one delicious sample and wish you bon appetit!
I can never agree with you that the Incarnation, or any truth, has to satisfy emotionally to be right … there are long periods in the lives of all of us, and of the saints, when the truth as revealed by faith is hideous, emotionally disturbing, downright repulsive.