Monday, October 22, 2007

Flannery O'Connor and Heroes

So this is my first blog attempt and I'm assuming it's going to suck, but stick with me. Good intro, right? Now I'll talk about what kind of food got stuck in my teeth this morning (cinnamon apple sauce) and my favorite kind of toilet paper (whatever that commercial is with those red bears!).... I thought that was how blogs worked? You see, I did a little research. Dwight Schrute's blog is about a time capsule he sent to himself. No, really. I'm actually getting to something literary. Seems to me time's a pretty mysterious mofo. Heard about this study about how people like to see, in their movie trailers, everything that's going to happen in the movie? Not original. Flannery was doing that stuff ages ago. See "A Good Man is Hard to Find." You know damn well they're going to meet the misfit the moment the grandmother, and then the storeowner, mentions it. Or "A Circle in the Fire." Fire's in the title, even, and it's the protagonist's greatest fear. What she really pulled off is making us pant with anticipation (that's right, like a dog) until we get there. Why don't we see this in a lot of writing today (though, yes, there are exceptions like Jeffrey Eugenides's Middlesex--on our Best Books List)?

Actually, this isn't what I wanted to talk about at all. What I wanted to talk about was dialogue subtext. In "A Circle in the Fire" (really one of O'Connor's fastest moving stories) we've got this woman who's convincing herself the invading boys are only hungry and will soon leave vs. the boys who know exactly what they are doing but pretend to speak politely. The suspense is in waiting for the subtext to come to the surface, for the woman to realize (or let herself realize) what exactly is going on, in opposition to what is being said. That's a whole lot of suspense, a whole lot more than just wondering what physical action will play out. If you look back at pop culture, you'll see this at work in shows like Heroes, where characters will have whole conversations full of disparate subtexts, disparate levels of knowledge (though this is probably easier to do when your characters' identities/super powers are secret). Too heavy? My time capsule would include gay Albus Dumbledore, embryonic research, global warming in a tube, a copy of James Scott's OneStory, an issue of the latest Redivider, my upcoming issue of Mid-American Review, other shameless plugs, etc. And yours?

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