Sunday, February 13, 2011

Christ Haunted

Southern writer Flannery O’Connor once said, “By and large, people in the south still conceive of humanity in theological terms…” O’Connor, who died in 1964 was speaking of hers and earlier generations and the same sentiment might not be so convincing as a description of twenty-first century southerners, but that concession by no means implies that modern day southerners “by and large” do not bear the imprint of religion. To use the boldest example, we have only to look toward the popularity of televangelism, a phenomenon rooted in the south. Alfred Kazin, writing some years after O’Connor said in his 1991 book, Faulkner and Religion that religion is “…the most traditional and lasting form of southern community.”

For those readers who have an interest in southern writing and have sampled the work of writers like Lee Smith, Doris Betts, Reynolds Price, Larry Brown or Clyde Edgerton, the above comments will need no argument. These five are only a small few of the writers who grew up in southern communities and echo in their novels and stories the point that O’Connor and Kazin were making.

To introduce this idea and to offer contemporary examples of this ethic at work, it would be hard to find a better book than Susan Ketchin’s The Christ Haunted Landscape: Faith and Doubt in Southern Fiction. Ketchin gives us introduction, interview and the selected stories of twelve southern writers, ten of them living and writing today. I can’t imagine a better format for introducing a writer while at the same time connecting that writer to a tradition, and helping the reader to understand how and why these themes call out to the writer. Ms Ketchin’s research and insightful collation of material from a rich field have opened wide the doors to a prominent part of the southern writer’s psyche.

Here is a list of the writers represented, discussed and interviewed in the book:

(1) Lee Smith, (2) Reynolds Price, (3) Larry Brown, (4) Sheila Bosworth, (5) Sandra Hollins Flowers, (6) Will Campbell, (7) Doris Betts, (8) Randall Kenan, (9) Mary Ward Brown, (10) Harry Crews, (11) Clyde Edgerton and (12) Allan Gurganus.

The chapters on Lee Smith and Doris betts are worth the price of the book.

1 comment:

  1. Familiar with the Ketchin book and wish I had thought of the title. Another book along the same lines is PECULIAR CROSSROADS by Farrell O'Gorman and it explains how the radical religiosity of both Flannery O'Connor's and Walker Percy's vision made them so valuable as southern fiction writers and social critics. Via their spiritual and philosophical concerns, O'Gorman asserts, these two unabashedly Catholic authors bequeathed a postmodern South of shopping malls and interstates imbued with as much meaning as Appomattox or Yoknapatawpha.


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America