Review by Kirkus Book Review

An awed personal tribute to O'Connor as artist and prophet. The book grew out of the Walter Lynwood Fleming Lectures in Southern History, which the versatile Dr. Coles gave at L.S.U., but in a broader sense it draws on the critical formative years (late 1950s through mid-1960s) that Coles and his wife spent in the Deep South and the people they met there, including O'Connor herself. Coles does not pretend to be an objective literary critic: he describes this as an act of homage (to ""Miss O'Connor,"" as he usually calls her), and he shrinks from any but the mildest strictures and the friendliest questions. He discusses, for example, O'Connor's obsessive assault on pride, ""the sin of sins,"" without asking whether this fiercely moralizing tendency in her work might not be, in some ways at least, simplistic. Coles approaches O'Connor--as he approaches the long-suffering, God-fearing Southern blacks and poor whites whose stories he weaves into his text--with the humility of the guilt-ridden bourgeois liberal. He dwells almost masochistically on O'Connor's suspicion of intellectuals--which, he thinks, they richly deserve. He stands back in rueful reverence, likewise, from O'Connor's theological vision. To Coles, she resembles the spellbinding folk evangelists he and his wife listened to in their backcountry travels, with their ""hard, hard religion."" Her scorn for the godless materialism of sophisticated urban America (his world), her unshakable Catholic faith (strong medicine whether or not one takes it oneself), her mythic landscapes where Grace and Evil are locked in terrifying combat--all this haunts Coles and stirs his pieties, regional, human, and (vaguely) supernatural. He has nothing new to tell us about O'Connor, but some of his evocations of the Southerners he takes to be her spiritual kin (e.g., the old black man complaining of the whites who have ""stolen the world from the Lord"") are superb. A curious performance: not criticism exactly (and not very distinguished in that line), but an honest, rough-hewn essay on one of the great ""eccentrics"" in modern literature. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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