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Biography Review     

 
Flannery O’Connor:  A Life
By Jean W. Cash
University of Tennessee Press, 2002
Hardcover, $30.00 (392pp)
ISBN: 1-57233-192-5
 
 
 

“…[I]t’s not the life, it’s a life,” Jean W. Cash states in a press release from James Madison University, where she teaches English.  But what a life it was.  Cash details the life and work of Flannery O’Connor, including the author’s strong Catholic faith and premature death (from lupus).   

As one of the South’s best-loved writers, Cash meticulously describes O’Connor’s individuality that encompassed her keen intelligence and disregard for the pigeonholed existence of a woman in the 1940s.  Although most of O’Connor’s surviving family refused involvement in the biography, Cash’s book is impeccably researched.  A rare treat is reading as-yet unpublished letters written by and to the National Book Award winner. 

Cash provides a chronological assessment and depiction of O’Connor’s life.  The most colorfully depicted episodes while O’Connor charts her course as a writer, notably during her days at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and during the publication of her first novel, Wise Blood  

O’Connor’s friends and strong female influences provide colorful tapestry throughout her 39 years.  Cash threads their recollections and/or correspondences all the way through the book.  Among O’Connor’s connections, Cash introduces the reader to the late-Betty Hester, identified in the collection of Flannery O’Connor letters, The Habit of Being, as “A,” and a major source of letters.   

Oftentimes, there is overlap and repetition, as when one relative describes Edward O’Connor as ‘good-looking’ and several passages later another relative uses those exact words.  Intermittently, when the quotations seemingly weigh down the book, the reader loses some of the objectivity and insight Cash presents. 

Flannery O’Connor:  A Life is a careful work that goes a long way to illuminate the reader about a short and productive writing life.

 

Elizabeth King Humphrey
Southern Scribe Reviews
 

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