Last week, I was sitting at my kitchen table eating breakfast getting in a couple of pages of The Violent Bear It Away when Rayber, the schoolteacher in the novel, flashes back to his attempt to commit an horrific act of violence toward his idiot son. Thinking about it for the rest of the day, it was a reminder that Flannery O’Connor is not for the faint of heart. She’s not for the politically correct, either.
Prior to the flashback, Rayber muses about his feelings for his son, Bishop:
He did not believe that he himself was formed in the image of God but that Bishop was he had no doubt. The little boy was part of a simple equation that required no further solution, except at the moments when with little or no warning he would feel himself overwhelmed by the horrifying love. Anything he looked at too long could bring it on. Bishop did not have to be around. It could be a stick or a stone, the line of a shadow, the absurd old man’s walk of a starling crossing the sidewalk. If, without thinking, he lent himself to it, he would feel suddenly a morbid surge of the love that terrified him – powerful enough to throw him to the ground in an act of idiot praise. It was completely irrational and abnormal.
In O’Connor’s world, one human being can encompass the capacity for incredible love and intense hatred.
In her world, the bushes burn and the crazy become prophets.
In her world, an old man can lay in his handmade coffin telling his grand-nephew how to bury him – making the scene morbid and funny.
Yeah, that’s O’Connor’s world: morbid and funny.
I wish she had been able to write more.