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July 24, 2010


Jim Thompson

Dear Father O'Leary,

This comment isn't about your recent post, but I couldn't find a way to make a general comment. I hope you don't mind.

Are you familiar with Flannery O'Connor's work? I've just finished her last collection of stories "Everything That Rises Must Converge." It is wonderful writing, though superficially forbidding. It is set in the American South but without even a whiff of magnolia. She is really an ascetic with no concern for romantic love, just religion and divine grace, often delivered by one of her "bad" incorrigible characters. She is wickedly funny, but the humor has to hit you at a precise angle. She pokes fun at young Southern know-it-all liberal intellectuals, exactly what I was at the time of her death. At times she almost embraces the hardscrabble Calvinist religion of the South, something I always resisted. Her work has some faults. She sets up cardboard intellectual pretentions to knock down. As for race, she never got far beyond the attitudes of her time. To her credit she doesn't presume to get inside her peripheral black characters but only presents the masks they they wear before their white overlords. O'Connor does sense some of the bottled up anger that was starting to explode in the early 60's and a few of her black characters brutally reflect that. In Judgement Day a black actor leaves a dying old man, who had unintentionally insulted him, entangled in a bannister. In real life, the actor may well have shown grace and mercy. That would seem more likely based on my experience. But Flannery couldn't see that far. But I complain too much. Her writing is clean and terse and gets to the bone-truth of things. Her theology seems almost fundamentalist at times, Catholic Protestant whatever. On the other hand, it is deeper than I can fathom. In "Revelation" we learn that Divine Grace burns away not only our sin but our virtue.

Thank you so much for all your articles, especially on literature but also on topics I not so familiar with. I love your humane stand on so many issues. God bless you.

Jim Thompson.

PS. My middle name is O'Donnelly from my great great grandfather who came from Ireland in the 1840's. But somehow he would up as a Methodist preacher. It must have been hard to stay a Catholic in the South with all that heat and humidity and cotton.

Spirit of Vatican II

Jim, thanks for your comments and for sending me back to the sizzling and enigmatic Flannery O'Connor. In this torrid, muggy Tokyo weather, it was really a pep up to read her gripping tales, "Geranium," "Judgment Day," "Revelation," and "Everything That Rises Must Converge" (can you explain the title?). This writing really gets inside your skin!'

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