Well, I got up early today and headed down to one of the city’s convention spaces, where I queued dutifully with the other committed book dorks eager to get into a clearance event that actually required all the room set aside for it. Admittedly, it was mostly junk– but I’m always willing to spend a couple of hours poring through supermarket pulp if I know there’ll be gems tucked away between the latest teen vampire schlock and the mommy porn that acts as a follow-up to it.
I did score some excellent finds, and was glad to have them along when it was time for me to hand over my part of this give-and-take day. After my sport of a dad spent most of his time sitting off to the side, waiting for me to scrutinize every offering, I was well-armed with literature to get me through my own bench-dwelling at his natural gardening mecca. Finding a niche for myself among exuberant greenery, I opened up my $2 Flannery O’Connor collection, and was greeted, appropriately enough, by “The Geranium.” OK, so the plot really had nothing much to do with plants at all, but I’ll take neat coincidences when they come.
It’s only been semi-recently that I’ve revisited O’Connor’s stuff. Up until my early thirties, I just couldn’t handle her characters and the situations they got into; even though I didn’t grow up in her Southern gothic world, it felt all too familiar, in a very unwelcome way. Even an adored grad school prof’s theological rapture at all these weird and disheartening goings-on– which were most assuredly foreign to this Welshman– did nothing to change my mind. But then a few years ago, a creative writing friend had me read “Good Country People”– and the way O’Connor crafted that thing blew a mental gasket for me. It was almost as if the characters were simultaneously central and incidental, and I could almost see how the author had been laying out a brilliant step-by-step map for us the entire time.
Since then, I’ve approached her with ever less hesitation. An excerpt from her journals, featured in The New Yorker in September, more or less cured my case of the willies, even if I don’t share her metaphysical viewpoint/s. And so, it was superb to have time today to let myself fall into “The Geranium” and “The Barber,” the latter of which I found remarkable in its ability to convey the insecurities and not-quite disinterested liberal self-perception of the main character.
The strangely appropriate, though differently dated, feature of this whole situation was the fact that I was surrounded by rich neo-hippies out digging the floral vibes and doing what happens all too often in my hometown: namely, being assertively laid-back and super demonstrative about the fact that one is really digging the music being played, and hence, being true to the area’s pride in valuing tunage, all the time, everywhere. (The book sale, for example, featured a band who kept trying to get the noses-in-spines crowd to get into the music.) The oddly apropos atmosphere made the blaring selection of Supertramp being piped through the tastefully hidden speakers a little easier to bear, able as I was to place at least a few inhabitants of real life in the barber’s chair in lieu of Rayber.
All in all a good day, even if it brought out some of that snark that I wish could be more easily overcome with grace and understanding. I’m sure if I keep reading O’Connor, though, and read her truly, she’ll be able to target my flare-ups of self-satisfaction with a nice dose of comeuppance.