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The Collected Stories by William Trevor: Penguin Books, London/2003|
Available at: Amazon.co.uk
's The Collected Stories
, which clocks in at eighty-five tales and 1261 pages, is a chore. It is not because it is such a hefty tome, nor because the pages are large and the type small, but because of the very deliberate writing style of the man. That said, Trevor is a good writer--a very good writer at his best, but that appears in about twenty and eight of the stories respectively. The rest of the book is filled with solidly written tales, but a bit formulaic, logy and lack energy.
In reading William Trevor (his pen name, as he was born William Trevor Cox in County Cork, Ireland, in 1928) I was nagged for the first 250 or so pages with the thought that he reminded me of another writer, but couldn't put my finger on it. Then it hit. Trevor is the Anglo-Irish John Cheever except that Cheever is generally more concise than Trevor. And while Trevor, at his best, is better than Cheever, he lacks his overall consistency. At his worst Trevor’s characters creak with all the inauthenticity of John Updike's morose and pallid wights. In fact, as I was reading Trevor I was also alternating his stories with the Collected Stories of American Southern writer Reynolds Price, and I can say that Trevor isn't close to being the writer Price is.
The major reasons for this are that: a) Trevor is a very prosaic writer--in his choice of words and lack of concision. Price is highly poetic. And b) Trevor does not have a particularly good ear for conversation. His conversations tend to go on and on and on, well past the point of conveying the manifest point of the conversation, while not snipping off the superfluous portions to get to those writerly
chosen moments of 'accidental' poesy that occurs in the best written conversations.
There is something in Trevor's tales that lack spontaneity and passion. The bulk of the tales themselves--they usually follow the daily or romantic follies and faux pas
of middle to upper class fogies who rue their love lives and infidelities with too much drink (albeit with none of the humour of the best of Raymond Carver), too many manners, and too little introspection. Then, a moment occurs, something changes (ever so slightly) and the tales end with a whimper rather than a bang. And by whimper I don't mean a Chekhovian nor Hemingwayvian zero ending, but an offhand comment or muttering over crumpets. Even his story titles can dull. The effect of this formula over a few hundred pages really weighs down even a good reader. Too often you know what is going to happen, although you truly hope you are wrong--you rarely are--and in those few instances Trevor displays the gifts that could have made his front cover blurb prophetic.
In “A Meeting in Middle Age”, the book's first story, this formula is laid out to a T, although it is probably the best of the tales that follow this formula of the failed romance. Mrs. da Tanka is meeting Mr. Mileson for
an assignation at a hotel. They squabble, share a bed, and the next morning squabble some more. She is a shrew, and he a snob. There is little to care about in these portraits, but they are well wrought, and pretty funny, at their best. By contrast, “In Isfahan” has an even lighter ‘Lost in Translation’ feel about it, where a middle-aged married middle-aged man carries on with a young woman in Iran. “Lovers of Their Time” explicates the story of a married man having an affair with a shop girl. “Angels at the Ritz” depicts the resistance of a couple drawn into a wife-swapping game in which husbands throw car keys on the carpet and blindfolded wives pick them up.
In “Afternoon Dancing”, a middle-aged married woman thinks of an affair with her dance partner. In “The Ballroom of Romance” a girl's dreams are made in the local dance hall. The tale follows a thirty-something Irish woman named Bridie, who cares for her crippled father. She dances on Saturday nights, attends church on Sundays and is smitten with a blue collar guy and drummer named Dano Ryan. He does not return her affections, and she is pursued by a drunk named Bowser Egan. She faces a very common dilemma:
She would wait now and in time Bowser Egan would seek her out
because his mother would have died. Her father would probably have
died also by then. She would marry Bowser Egan because it would be
lonesome being by herself in the farmhouse.
Who has not been there?
“Office Romances” is an archetypal Trevor tale as well, which follows a young woman, new to a company, who falls for the office Lothario, then smugly looks down on a wiser, older woman who likewise looks down upon her. “Mr. Tennyson” goes even a step further in this regard, as a teenaged girl falls in love with a married male teacher who is notorious for having seduced a young girl, years earlier. He is believed to have seduced many since, but when the girl tries out her wiles she fails, for the teacher is full of remorse--as the girl's life was ruined, and he paid for her abortion. In response to his rejection she sets down a path of banality and regret. A variant on the romantic follies theme is that of the parent's love for their child.
“Coffee with Oliver” follows the pursuit of a grown daughter by her father, and “August Saturday” follows the meeting of a woman with the father of her child, who does not know of this fact, and she does not tell him of it. “Access to the Children” is about an adulterer's quest to win back his wife from her new fiancé after he drops off his kids after a visit. Their pasts are nicely sketched from more than one perspective, and eventually the adulterer deludes himself as to his chances of winning back his wife.
“The General's Day” is another tale that follows a formula, albeit a bit different one--humour. The General is an old man who wanders about town causing all sorts of mischief, including getting drunk and fondling a woman he meets. It ends with a humorous scene of his return to his home, being fondled and robbed by his domestic. Again, there are no great points, nor lessons, in this tale, but it marginally succeeds as a realistic character portrait, even if it is too long a tale.
Other humorous tales include “The Table”, which might be the best tale in the whole book, as it deals with class, snobbery, obsession, and all with a good sense of humour. In “The Penthouse Apartment” an old woman's sensibilities are disturbed when her dog is blamed for damage caused when a janitor hosts a party. “The Day We Got Drunk On Cake” is an example of a 'scene' that becomes a whole story, and does not work. This is because Trevor's comic ability is based on things such as the mildly ironic, or the incongruous embarrassment, not sharp wit--as in Oscar Wilde, whose comedies of manners are still the Gold Standard in such, nor hilarious slapstick.
Then there is the darker side of Trevor--dealing with rage, death, injustice, anger. ”Memories Of Youghal”, as example, deals with the narrator coming to terms with the death of his parents. “A School Story” is a good tale that follows the males of a boarding school, one of who brags constantly of his desire to murder his parents. When they turn up dead, on their Kenyan estate, another of his classmates psychologically tortures the boy into thinking he actually did the deed. The tale's narrator is repulsed by the game playing fiend, especially after the boy with the murdered parents is carted away after
confessing to the deed. The tale ends poorly though--a big disappointment--not because the reality of the boy's guilt or innocence is not established, but because there seems to have been little point to the tale. “Miss Smith” is a gruesome tale of a child murder that occurs when a teacher becomes the obsession of a sick little boy. While the tale is a bit too long, and could lose some superfluous scenes for pacing, the end is a shocker, and reminds me of the great tale by Richard Yates, called “Doctor Jack-O'Lantern”, save that this tale's young villain is even further along the path to ruin.
Another tale with a dark twist is even better. “In At the Birth” a disturbed couple takes in elderly and/or terminal patients, yet calls them their children. They hire a spinster babysitter who is perplexed that she's never seen the 'child' she is supposedly sitting for. She then finds out and avoids the couple until a few years later she is ready to be waited on by the couple, and become their 'child'. While in no sense a realist piece, it does have a macabre sense of the sick that many of the best known horror tales lacks--sort of a Rod Serling meets H.H. Munro.
The last of the four major 'types' of Trevor tale are the political pieces, such as ”Teresa's Wedding”, where she is a pregnant woman who needs to marry, yet has seen the failure of her sisters' marriages and comes to terms with certain aspects of herself. Trevor is unrelenting in his condemnation of Church morals and Irish obeisance to them. Even harsher, in some ways, is his “Two More Gallants”, which references James Joyce's “Two Gallants”, literally, tonally, and postmodernly, and ends quite well. Like Joyce, Trevor recounts a deception: a college student schemes to humiliate a Joyce scholar who has discovered Joyce's source for the slavey in “Two Gallants”. His basic thrust is how Irish men are responsible for their inability to transcend their cultural inferiority complex, much as Joyce's was. In “Torridge” a reunion of old school chums is marred by the revelation that, when they were at school, a friend hanged himself for being gay.
But the best of his political tales is also one of his most famous: “Attracta” is about a conscientious spinster teacher nearing retirement who refuses to kowtow to the demands of her superiors in regard to teaching methods--especially when she comes across a newspaper
piece on a murder that touches her own past of loss. Her bland life has been dominated by one event--her parents’ murder during the Irish troubles, when she was only three years old. She reads in a newspaper that a former student, who married a British soldier serving in Belfast, had his severed head mailed to her in a plastic bag inside a biscuit tin. She then returned to Belfast, to confront the killers and was raped by them. She then committed suicide. The report affects Attracta, who sees similarities to the tale.
They are both 'Horror stories, with different endings only,' for the murderers of her parents become her benefactors. When she conveys this tale to her students she is rebuked and forced into retirement.
I have not read Trevor's novels so I do not know if that is his area of true excellence, but I can state that his short stories are not the masterworks that his supporters depict. And this has nothing to do with the question of whether he is an Irish writer or a British writer, but whether or not he is a great writer of short fiction. I say ‘no’, and clearly. The fact is that Trevor's purview--both as sketched narrative and handled philosophically--is quite small. In a sense, he is more at home with the pre-Chekhovian world of the short story. His tales lack the emotional and intellectual depth of the best of fiction. His tales are genuinely bleak, yet nothing is ever made of this bleakness. It's as if one were snow-blinded in the Arctic and never spoke of glare, nor ever tried to even reconcile what it was, how it was caused, nor what the effects of it are.
When he is at his best, such as the end of “Miss Smith”, Trevor is wise enough to let the evil of the little boy do the heavy lifting.
But, in far too many stories, he sketches dilettante after dilettante, without making any effort at the connection. Some critics have tried to divine what Trevor's Protestantism might have to do with his perspectives in the tales, and most end up with decidedly politicized opinions. To me, it's much more obvious. Trevor indeed has an outsider point of view, and this comes through clearly in his tales. Where a Chekhov or Carver burrows into character Trevor is content to let the patina of banal conversation serve as characterization. To him, character is reflected in actions, not in inwardly limned feelings. Whether this is an outgrowth of his personal take on life, or an indication of his writing limitations is beside the point.
Trevor's characters are like porcelain dolls in highly plotted out dance routines. But, never do they, nor their creator, throw caution to the side and let daring roam free. Yes, he will populate his tales with rakes and debauchees--such as the lustful adolescents of “An Evening With John Joe Dempsey”, or the wacky bachelors living with their wackier sisters in “The Original Sins Of Edward Tripp”--but nothing truly unexpected ever occurs that would make the inner tale seem a natural consequence of the outer narrative eye's look into the characters' lives.
Trevor skims surfaces and refuses to dig beneath. Many of his situations, characters, and denouements seem terribly contrived, which is the exact opposite effect of Chekhov, a writer to whom he's often compared. In Chekhov's best tales things seem to float out of the narrative future with the ease of unexpected reality. In Trevor, you can smell the set up a mile away, like a bad vaudeville act ready to guffaw on the third ba-boom. Yet, unlike the vaudevillians, who know if you advertise it so blatantly you have to deliver, Trevor demurs, and laconically kicks back and lets his 'moment' then attempt to play out naturalistically. And this is where the schism of artifice hits the
savvy reader, where it rarely does so in a Chekhov.
In many tales the very length and banality of the situations tend to turn a reader off, achieving that same sort of Irish angst and ennui that Joyce did, at his best, with invigorating tales. And some of his tales drain because even their finer moments are so bounded by the pedestrian, in theme and construction, as well as a creaky artificiality and superficiality that even his well-choreographed narrative waltzes cannot remedy. To be turned on to angst, in essence, as Joyce can do, is a far greater accomplishment to be stupefied into it, as Trevor often does, and these flaws, in fact, doom the bulk of his tales from greatness.
I think this sort of effusive over-praise of writers who are clearly limited, even if they are good at their best, ultimately disservices the writer in the long run, setting up expectations in the work, and against greater writers, that the claimed writer simply cannot meet. Trevor is like this--while his work is not great it is capable of some wonderful moments of small comedy and touching emotion.
Apparently, Trevor’s biggest flaw in his later tales seems to be the apings of earlier successes. In short, this is the sign of a writer who's run out of steam, for the tales, some of those named above, are often just slight variations on a theme. There are the same types of characters, as well situations, and Trevor's female characters, with few exceptions, are never as well nor deeply wrought as his male characters. He generally, especially in his later tales, falls into caricature, at best, and condescension, toward his characters and reading audience, at worst. But, the greatest sin is that he often simply lets his tales hang limply, as if he is tired of the tale long before its end. Early tales withheld facts as a way to get a reader to dig within for an answer, while those later in his career leave details out simply because of the writer's ennui.
Reviewed by Dan Schneider, a writer and critic, and the publisher of Cosmoetica
Death, Not a Redeemer by Hope Eghagha: Xcel Publishers, Lagos/1998|
Available at: Amazon.co.uk
Hope Eghagha’s Death, Not a Redeemer
is the story of Karia, the king’s horseman, who is required by native custom to commit ritual suicide in order to escort the dead Oba, Abednego Adamuda Okoromole, to the other world. Karia is a reluctant quester who, in our first encounter with him, expresses his repulsion for ritual suicide and his preference for life. His position is reinforced by his new found faith as a born-again Christian. His wife, Avbero, attempts to weaken his resolve by reminding him of his bond with tradition and the cataclysmic implication if he reneges.
The development of the plot exposes Avbero’s hidden agenda. She is having an illicit relationship with Jolomi and her insistence on Karia’s suicide is to create way for her marital union with her lover. Karia’s son, Sankaria, arrives from England to support his father’s course. They sue selected chiefs to court and seek an injunction that the chiefs should not employ black magic on Karia or coerce him to embrace ritual death. The judge rules that Chief Karia should not be compelled in anyway to perform ritual suicide. Thereafter, Chief Karia goes on holiday and dies one year after.
Death, Not a Redeemer
is a revolt against tradition, barbaric custom, feudalistic operatives and metaphysical belief in death and afterlife. It negates the African worldview. Death which is perceived in African consciousness as rebirth, rejuvenation and a vessel for reaffirmation of man’s spiritual location within the cosmic continuum of the three worlds: the dead, the living and the unborn, becomes the centrifugal force that propels the parallels in plot and character of the play and Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman
, which Eghagha sets out to reinterpret and obfuscate.
As a meeting point, the plot of Death, Not a Redeemer
like Soyinka’s Death and the King's Horseman
is a dramatic explication of scapegoatism and communal cohesion. Like Elesin Oba, Chief Karia is vested with the ritual responsibility to commit ritual suicide for societal redemption and attainment of plenitude of being. Like Elesin also, Chief Karia has a son, Sankaria, who like Olunde, Elesin’s son, has acquired western education. Iyaloja is like Avbero who plays a vital role as custodian of tradition and catalyst for the fulfillment of Karia’s ritual suicide.
However, Eghagha’s artistic vision and basic drive is of different temperament from Soyinka’s. In the development of the plot, the play breaks into a departure. Elesin, the willing quester, having exhausted his dramatic energy, becomes Karia, the reluctant quester, who genuflects in prayer for divine intervention. Iyaloja’s noble savage withers into Avbero’s flirtation and adulterous inclination. Her claim to be on the side of tradition is a façade and amorously motivated. When she fails to push her husband into suicide, she elopes with Jolomi. Olunde’s courage disintegrates in Sankaria’s cowardice, which he couches in revolutionary jargons and exaggerated youthful energy. If Olunde’s western liberal education acceptes deep spiritual and metaphysical significance of the people’s culture, Sankaria’s is reactionary to it, pulling down desperately all the cultural foliage that runs contrary to contemporary secular reality. That tradition is unprecedentedly dragged to modern law court and humiliated is by Sankaria’s prompting, “I have already contacted a senior advocate of the law. Legal proceedings against the community no, against the leaders of the land have been instituted.” He avows with aplomb.
Death, Not a Redeemer
is an allegory of change from tradition to modernity. Eghagha achieves this by the reversal of every aspect of African worldview. He sits tradition on its head, dragging it callously along the filth of superstition and sacred belief to murky waters of modern law court for trial. Sacred African laws are made to collide with secular colonial laws in the climactic moment of the dramatic contradistinction; traditional African is portrayed as barbaric, primitive, retrogressive and utterly despicable while modernity is portrayed as progressive, potent and acceptable.
But Eghagha’s revolutionary assault is not on tradition alone. He takes the audience through the labyrinth of the contemporary socio-political malady; from oppression to exploitation; from hypocrisy to self-serving leadership. And the buck stops on the military rulers who he portrays as self-serving reformers whose interest is economically motivated. It is the serving and retired Generals who “dominate all sectors of the economy” and “mess up the country.” In this regard, the jury metaphor in the trial scene is also aimed at the exploitative military and the bourgeoisie.
Unfortunately, the trial, viewed from today’s socio-political current, takes place in the enemy's territory where fair trial is not guaranteed. The jury and the persecuting witnesses are constituted by the same upper class, as it were. Thus, the judge’s warning to “those who believe that the conscience of all judges is for sale” is fictive and unnecessary shadow-boxing for it both intensifies our disenchantment with the judicial system and heightens our suspicion of the judge’s verdict. That the judgment is delivered on June 12 (in Nigerian politics and history) is equally instructive.
The play’s ending has a dramatic ambiguity that is not only controversial but fails to achieve its intended reversal of “the tragic sequence of that great drama of existence.” Those with religious bias may not see Chief Karia’s death by fever as the handiwork of black magic. But it is a fact of the contemporary African life that black magic is disguised in various scientifically explainable ailments and sudden misfortunes like “a fatal bite by a snake; a mysterious fall from the stairs; a fatal blow by thunderbolt in a rainless afternoon.” A critic in the Soyinkaian school can easily detect the cobra-like patience of tradition after the inglorious verdict. Tradition bids its time for over six months, beyond suspicion and culpability, then after one year it strikes. Some magic kill instantly; others kill in installment.
I think that by killing Chief Karia, Eghagha’s dramatic concerns which are the relocation of sacred beliefs, reassessment of African custom and culture and obfuscation of Soyinka’s redemptive concern in Death and the King’s Horseman
fail woefully. In his rebellious intensity, the rebel dramatist over-reaches himself. He kills Africa. He kills its tradition. And, losing control, he kills Karia, modernity proselytizer, thereby cutting himself on the foot. At the end of the play what is left is a revolutionary energy that dissipates exhaustion and paralysis.
In spite of this weakness, Death, Not a Redeemer
is a seminal play. The more you read it, the more it generates new interpretations. No doubt it runs contrary to Soyinka school of thought, which believes in the being-essence of man and metaphysical position of the African world within the cosmos. But it intends principally to shake us out of our primitive world and to relocate and realign our thought-process in the current spate of universalism and globalization. Whether Eghagha will succeed in this, is yet to be seen, but I think he has set the stage for its possibilities.
However, an attempt to place the Death, Not a Redeemer
in an established context is problematic. As we have seen above, the play is not conceived around the African philosophical worldview, which obviously makes it non-Soyinkaesque. Again the metaphor of the jury and the distancing effect achieved by the use of a narrator almost make it a Brechtian concern, but the play climaxes in Aristotelian catharsis: and to think, not to feel, is the Brechtian tradition. Also the plays religious preachment puts it in the mould of early Strindberg, as in Road to Damascus
. But Eghagha’s Karia does not claim to be Strindberg’s Stranger who rebels against God, assumes His place and attempts to reshape the world. Death, Not a Redeemer
is more of a Christian Theology.
Non-Soyinkaesque. Non-Brechtian. Non-Strindbergian. I think that our inability to place Eghagha in context becomes his strong point. As his first published play, it sets the stage for critics to view it and his subsequent plays from his own school.
Reviewed by Peter Anny-Nzekwue
Collected Stories by Frank O'Connor:
Atlantic Books, London/2003|
Available at: Amazon.co.uk
dull, bad, or tedious. My quandary is in having to relate how profoundly disappointing is the Collected Stories
of an acclaimed master like Frank O'Connor. O'Connor’s tales are murky, filled with the worst Irish stereotypes (really caricatures, not characters), bad conversation, and just no real reason for most of the tales to exists, save as documenting how dull and dim were the 20th Century Irish writings. And conversation dominates almost every tale.
They all follow a predictable pattern--a null start (similar to a Chekhovian zero ending, save pointless since we've no information at this point in the tale), piss-poor dialogue that complains about some person or some aspect of Irish existence (such as in “The Lady Of The Sagas”, where an old storyteller deals with small-mindedness, but not very well; or in “Freedom”, which shows up the hypocrisy in the IRA), and then a less than zero end. Or, to be cynical--zero starts, zero middles, and zero ends.
The tales all blur into each other, as some prolonged forty year rant about life's utter futility and grey pallor. To read a paragraph or two of one is to sample the full range of O'Connor's palate. Greyness dominates the land, the words spoken, the characters, their loneliness, and whatever little things they are engaged in. The attempts at themes that resonate childhood, rebellion, nationalism, religious strife, marital woes, the desire to leave Ireland, are all subsumed in the grey.
Unlike Trevor or James Joyce, O'Connor never gets out of the mire his tales spread with his poor dialogue and narration, so his attempts at humour or pathos look and read all the same. There is almost no variegation to the results, and little variance from the literary ideals attempted. His tales are almost excruciatingly painful to read.
I think of Joyce's “Dubliners”, and even in the worst of those stories there would still be a moment or description that would soar. Not so in O'Connor. In a sense he's a Guy de Maupassant or O. Henry without the wit or zest for storytelling. Not only are the stories bad in that they are unwitting caricatures, but nothing much happens, plot wise.
In one of his most famous tales, “My Oedipus Complex”, which chronicles the ups and downs of a poor father-son relationship, the tale is set at Christmas, and presumably in Ireland--due to the descriptions of things and people. It is about a boy named Larry Delaney, and the tribulations with his father, who returned from war. Here is a typical O'Connor take on child abuse:
At this he lost his patience and let fly at me. He did it with the lack
of conviction you'd expect of a man under Mother's horrified eyes,
and it ended up as a mere tap, but the sheer indignity of being struck
at all by a stranger, a total stranger who had cajoled his way back
from the war into our big bed as a result of my innocent intercession,
made me completely dotty...From that morning out my life was a hell.
Father and I were enemies, open and avowed.
Yet, by tale's end the two males seem to be in the same boat, figuratively, yet the tale just ends. No poetic end was needed, but the ending cuts off any sense that the boy has learned empathy or not. The reader is just left hanging. In a better written tale, with more depth and revelation such an end could have been very effective. As the tale is, though, it just manifests the many flaws of the prior portions of the story.
A story seemingly dealing with the same clan, and a different year, is presented in “Christmas Morning”. Here Larry seems a bit wiser, dealing with the common tragedy of finding out Santa does not exist, and ending:
...it was almost more than I could bear; that there was no Santa Claus,
as the Dohertys said, only Mother trying to scrape together a
few coppers from the housekeeping; that Father was mean and common
and a drunkard, and that she had been relying on me to raise her
out of the misery of the life she was leading. And I knew that
the look in her eyes was the fear that, like my father, I should
turn out to be mean and common and a drunkard.
This is actually one of the few pretty good stories, yet it only accentuates the others' failures in not following this tale's plot progression and character revelations. But the reason why “Christmas Morning” succeeds where the other tales fail is that O'Connor has no real style of his own, even though all of his tales follow a fairly safe formula, as outlined above. It is rare to find such in writers that have perdured the decades, yet this clearly makes his few successes aberrations, not gems of literary construction.
His tales are not just “not good”, but often quite bad. In “The Bridal Night”, what could have been a humorous tale about a boastful groom is utterly lost in the endless stream of banal conversations that infect the tale. In “News for the Church”, a young girl tries to one up her priest in a confessional booth by scandalizing him with her sexual knowledge, only to find herself frustrated.
There was potential in this story for a deeper examination of both the characters and religion, in general, especially since the girl seems to be preening so she will sound wiser to the priest vis-à-vis her older and more experienced sister, but O'Connor opts to play it safe, and ends with the very sitcom like moment above. Can't you just see the
father guffawing as the credits roll?
In “Judas” a boy is driven by obsession to pursue a girl. A similar arc is pursued in “The Man Of The House” where a boy is sent by his sick mother to get a bottle of cough syrup for her, only to be seduced by a cute girl at the drug store who convinces him to share the sweet medicine with her, leaving him to face his guilt. The end, however, is a saccharine, sitcom-like moment that really undercuts what had been a powerful tale.
Too often, O'Connor's bad ending ruins the few tales that have, till then, been working. In “Guests Of The Nation”, perhaps O'Connor's most famous tale, and first in the book, two English POWs are executed in vengeance for the killing of Irish soldiers. The woman who befriended them is thus turned off to 'the cause'. Yet, the tale never fully resonates as deeply as it could or should, because too much of the tale digresses to the soldiers' pointless dialogues.
In a sense, Frank O'Connor's tales fail in much the same way that American short story writer Flannery O'Connor's tales fail, but with a slight difference. Frank's characters are mere stereotypes, whereas Flannery's were not only stereotypes, but utter grotesques. That Frank O'Connor is described as a realist in his work is very interesting--wrong, but interesting. This is because it says something about the tendency of modern readers to conflate banality with realism, even if the banality is clearly not realistic and exaggerated to the point of accidental stereotype, or intended caricature.
I think this is a key point, not only in dealing with O'Connor's oeuvre, and why it fails, but why so much of what passes for literature is so banal. There is no joy in the higher plane that art can take a reader or viewer to. These days, all that art seems interested in is the laziness of banality, which can be fobbed off as realism, so that people with no talent can salve their egos by calling themselves artists.
Reviewed by Dan Schneider, a writer and critic, and the publisher of Cosmoetica
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