by K.M. Zahrt
3. This year’s Believer Book Award-winning novel was Maidenhead by Tamara Faith Berger (2012), and I’m sure you can probably guess. That’s right! Flannery O’Connor makes an appearance.
Here is an example: A character named Aaron claims that Flannery O’Connor “is one strange-ass lady writer. She described violence in a way that no one ever had before. I’ve got some of her collections. She’s from Savannah. That’s the south” (Maidenhead p.100).
It makes sense that O’Connor should appear in this book. Berger draws the picture of Myra, a sixteen-year-old girl who is coming of age in a violent world, and she’s learning of sex, drugs, and Hegel ‘n’ Bataille (please forgive me for not clarifying these references; in a pinch, Wikipedia can help). Although Berger’s plot seems unhinged at times, when she appropriately weaves these references into the text, she demonstrates her complete control.
O’Connor, in “The Nature and Aim of Fiction,” states, “The kind of written work I’m going to talk about is story-writing […] and I’ll call anything a story in which specific characters and events influence each other to form a meaningful narrative” (Mysteries and Manners p.66). Maidenhead certainly fits that definition. Even O’Connor may have found Berger’s text abject at times, especially since “O’Connor had no sex life” (Maidenhead p.101). However, it is doubtful that O’Connor would have rejected Maidenhead. O’Connor continues, “You cannot appeal to the senses with abstractions” (Mysteries and Manners p.67). O’Connor would have appreciated the reality of Berger’s depiction of sex and violence and the resulting emotion.
4. The above quotes from Berger’s Maidenhead segue nicely into my last (I promise) O’Connor Encounter. A couple of days ago, I came across Brad Gooch’s Flannery: A Life of Flannery O’Connor in a bargain book bin. That’s when I knew I had a Flannery O’Connor problem. I bought the book straightaway. By reading the book and writing this post, I hope I can set her (and me) free.
Interesting enough, Gooch’s book opens with a quote from O’Connor: “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 do not make exciting copy.” I dare say, Flannery, if that were true, people would not have been and would not continue to be so interested in Emily Dickinson.
Berger also suspects this is not true. Berger’s character, Aaron, goes on to state that O’Connor’s sex life, “probably helped her writing. Don’t you think?” (Maidenhead p.101). I think so. This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode in which George stopped having sex and became a genius. You can’t argue with the amount of quality literature O’Connor produced during her tragically short life.
And if this post doesn’t cure, you’ll see a review of Gooch’s biography here in the near future.