Saturday, September 27, 2008

Be Properly Scared

Be properly scared and go on doing what you have to do.
-- Flannery O'Connor

Silly picture, dead serious quote. Flannery O'Connor wrote this line in a letter toward the very end of her short life. I admire her bravery, her darkness, her acceptance of the strange and grotesque in human nature. Her characters are disturbing, colorful, riveting. I just reread her short story, "The Heart of the Park," and still feel an odd combination of uneasy and thrilled. Read this partial paragraph from the second page of the story and see if you can resist the need to find the book to see what happens:

The park was the heart of the city. He had come to the city -- with a knowing in his blood -- he had established himself at the heart of it. Every day he looked at the heart of it; every day; and he was so stunned and awed and overwhelmed that just to think about it made him sweat. There was something, in the center of the park, that he had discovered. It was a mystery, although it was right there in a glass case for everybody to see and there was a typewritten card telling all about it right there. But there was something the card couldn't say and what it couldn't say was inside him, a terrible knowledge like a big nerve growing inside him.

Wow. I love that: "...a terrible knowledge like a big nerve growing inside him." I picture that mysterious knowledge spreading wildly, branching, racing to the periphery of his body, filling him with white hot electricity.

The main character in this story is Enoch Emery, a creepy and manipulative young man who has "wise blood like his daddy." What a name. O'Connor's characters all seem to have fascinating names like Sally Poker Sash, Hazel Motes, Buford Munson, Tom T. Shiftlet, and Lucynell.

What's in the glass case? Be "properly scared"....

"The Heart of the Park" was first published in Partisan Review in 1949. It later became part of Wise Blood. It also appears in Flannery O'Connor: The Complete Stories, which is where I reread it.

The photograph was taken in my yard on 8/27/08.


Admin said...

I love Flannery O'Connor. She is another writer who set the stage for my own tastes and perspectives in literature.

Christine said...

Absolutely, same here. She created such strange little worlds, such memorably odd people and incidents. I never tire of her writing; I can revisit her work again and again. Like poetry.

Deborah Batterman said...

Of course I'm now completely intrigued at how 'The Heart of the Park" became part of "Wise Blood." I have her collected works, which don't include that particular story. The titles she gave to her works are pure poetry.

Christine said...

Hi, Deborah -- yes, her titles are so intriguing. Your comment makes me think of "Everything That Rises Must Converge!" "The Heart of the Park" is definitely worth reading.