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Flannery O'Connor
A Prayer Journal
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
US Hardcover First Edition
ISBN 978-0-374-23691-5
Publication Date: 11-12-2013
94 Pages; $18

Date Reviewed: 12-21-2013
Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2013

Index:  Non-Fiction   General Fiction

Flannery O'Connor captured the dark heart of America with deceptive ease. Her short stories and novels used a simple, realistic style but evoked the gnarly nature of the human heart, our ability to love and deceive ourselves and those we might love. In the gritty lives of the lowly, the poor, and the deranged, she found a transformative spirituality. In her short writing life, she never took the easy path. All we have of her is all we have; until now.

Some ten years ago, W. A. (Bill) Sessions, a personal friend of O'Connor's, found among her papers 'A Prayer Journal.' O'Connor had sent it away to be archived, but it had never been published. Written — and re-written — when she was a student and just beginning the stories that would become her first novel, 'Wise Blood,' 'A Prayer Journal' is exactly what the title describes; O'Connor's written prayers to become a writer worthy of her own intuition. What readers have here is a brief, powerful and thought-provoking work of philosophy, a meditation on creativity carved from crystalline prose.

As a reading experience, 'A Prayer Journal' is a powerful thought-experiment about how and why one strives to write, to create, to bring an art into this world worthy of the effort. Bill Sessions' introduction provides context and insight into the work. He sets up the historical facts of O'Connor's life and her work, as well as the provenance of the manuscript. He's corrected some spelling from the original work, but otherwise what you have is a pristine perception into a mind that is struggling with it's own ability to speak to the actual handiwork of an omnipotent creator who made .... mid 20th-century America.

The book itself is beautifully done. You get a nicely-printed, readable journal, the prose and the intense mind of O'Connor boiled down to the bare essence, just before she immersed herself in this world to create her vision. You also get a facsimile of the notebook itself, with relatively readable handwriting that shows the care behind the thought. O'Connor titled this 'A Prayer Journal,' but it is clearly a wortk meant to be read by others.

'A Prayer Journal' may seem a bit like something meant only for scholars and enthusiasts of Flannery O'Connor's work, and it is certain that they will want this book to add to their collections and for their studies. There are many revelatory moments to be found here for those who enjoy reading her stories, sentences that will shine a bright light into her dark mind. But general readers and anyone interested in creating or the creative process will find here a very intelligent and very concise philosophy of the creative process. This is the work of a brilliant young writer using the English language to query and identify how and why to bring something, anything, new into the world.

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