Picking a Fight: Why (the Cult of) Flannery O'Connor Drives Me Bonkers

I love Flannery O'Connor. I really do. While I have to be in the right mood for reading her short stories (which, according to my former professor, "is like eating power-punched potato chips"), I could read her essays anytime, anywhere.

Hers is an amazing voice and talent; her ability to spot incongruencies and blow them up to the point of surrealism is exceptional. She can make me laugh. I hope I'm half the writer she was by the time I die.

But she also annoys me, though it's not her fault. What gets to me is the cult of Flannery. When you've hung around Catholic literary circles long enough, you're bound to hear your fair share of Flannery adulation. She's become a patron saint of the Hopeful Revival of Faithful Catholic Literature, you see.

Because she's so well loved, O'Connor's Catholic detractors are unlikely to receive a lot of sympathy. Last year's Crisis article by James Bernens, in which he criticizes the "artlessness and crudity of her style," garnered over 160 comments—for a web post about a deceased writer of short stories, that's a lot. Bernens said That Which Must Never Be Said, and he paid for it.

It's a spiteful sliver of the old devil left in me, but all this dead seriousness and hearing her praises sung again and again makes me not want to read her work. Ever. Sticking out my tongue right now.

(I hope she's chuckling at my childishness up there in Glory Land.)

My issues regarding the Flannery Following aside, it's great that we continue to raise questions about Catholic art and culture. It's great that larger Catholic publishing houses like Loyola Press, Ave Maria Press, and Ignatius Press have published at least a few quality new and rediscovered works of Catholic fiction. It's great that Dappled Things exists (and humbling for me that I can play a small part in it).

The pre-Vatican II writers of Flannery & Co. were able to get a toehold in the secular publishing market. But that was 1960. This is 2016. We need all the internal support we can get if Catholic fiction is ever going to see a revival beyond our little enclave.

What's tough for us aspiring writers of Catholic fiction is that, unlike the Protestants, we don't have large publishing houses accepting and releasing shelves upon shelves of mass-marketed (but distinctively Catholic!) mostly-crap. If I were to write a Catholic-Amish romance story, it had better be a damn good Catholic-Amish romance story or no one is going to publish it. 

On second thought, maybe that's a good problem to have.

BooksRhonda OrtizComment