Saturday, February 25, 2012

a knock on her name

Is it weird that I don't like Flannery O'Connor? Because I don't.

I almost feel compelled to, because the MFA end of the literary/publishing spectrum is in sappy drippy love with her, as were most of my professors in high school and college, and I never understood what all the fuss was about.

I mean, “Good Country People” is okay enough - religious hypocrisy, the distorted body, etc. - but "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" just...sucks. Most of the story is the grandmother saying BOY I HOPE THE ANTAGONIST DOESN'T SHOW UP, so of course he does, but his arrival is telegraphed in such an obvious, hamfisted way that it takes me out of the story.

That kind of irony isn't a bad thing, even in doses as heavy as O'Connor's body of work, but I don't get the sense that her characters were meant to be anything but dumb and hopeless. Relatedly, I never got any sort of narrative signal that her characters were created with any sense of sympathy or recognition - it's as though they existed just so their author would have things to bully and feel smarter than ("Revelation" comes to mind here). There's a basic sense of humanity that I never found in her work, so reading it is mostly a flat and numbing experience for me.

Am I missing something here? Are there stories I should re-read, or pieces of criticism I should find that puts O'Connor's joylessness into some kind of larger context? I feel like she's been put on this pedestal where you're not allowed to question what a genius she was (hence all the looks I get when I voice this opinion), and I'm not really trying to pick a fight here, but I think that's really unhealthy.

Anyway, time to get to work. More later.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

octaves are stacked vertically

Read at Town Square (a monthly Baltimore reading series) on Sunday and did pretty well, I think. Now I'm gearing up for Last Rites on the 26th and trying to figure out what to read.

Someone in the audience on Sunday who'd seen me read before told me that he'd like to hear my more serious work, i.e. what I considered to be literature rather than the goofy poems and fake telegrams I usually bust out at readings. Poetry isn't a serious endeavor for me - it's more of a space where I can break rules and ignore the language requirements and narrative restraints of fiction, and it's also a holding tank for my dumber, sillier ideas that don't have a place in my short stories/novel/whatever. It's also, especially recently, a mechanism through which I can entertain and get my name out there.

That said, I wonder if anyone else is curious about how I write when I'm not dicking around and trying to make myself laugh. I may very well try out something from my upcoming MFA book (assuming there's something short enough to read in there) and see how audiences respond to work that isn't intended, first and foremost, to amuse them. It would also be a test for me to see if I can read that stuff and still be engaging.

Before I go, I should also mention that I read Hoa Nguyen's Hecate Lochia for book club this month, and liked it way more than I thought I would. The blurbs all describe it as a book of poems about motherhood, which is hardly uncharted or interesting territory, but instead it's a book of poems about how, in the context of war and economic instability and famine and political implosion, suburban American motherhood is a symbol of safety and stability and privilege. There's other stuff in there too, of course, but that stuck out to me immediately, given the book's marketing.

All right, gotta eat. Ta.