Last night I went to a reading by Ann Napolitano, author of the brand-new book, A Good Hard Look, which has Flannery O'Connor as its central character. The event was sponsored by the Georgia Center for the Book and hosted by First Baptist Church in Decatur. Napolitano talked about her process while writing the book, which is something I'm always interested to hear more about. She discovered O'Connor while in college and read some of her work. Then, she put O'Connor's work away for about a decade before realizing that she needed to write a book about her. Until that point, she'd been working on a book that had Melvin Whiteson as a main character. The story took place in New York City and she said the plot wandered and wandered. She couldn't seem to make it work. She had an epiphany and knew she should stop working on that book and start writing one about O'Connor. The interesting thing she did, though, was bring Melvin over as a character in the new book to interact with O'Connor. Their relationship in A Good Hard Look is what the rest of the novel is built around. It took her seven years to write this book, and it sounds like she wrote hundreds and hundreds of pages that ultimately didn't make it into the final published version.
My favorite thing Napolitano said last night summed up O'Connor's fiction so well, and made me think of my fellow book clubber who was jarred by her short stories. The author said, "Flannery's fiction is abrasive. It knocks you around....You don't curl up with Flannery O'Connor." Indeed.