Peacocks on the Loose!

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1. Fellow book blogger Jen, of Jen and the Pen fame. 2. Napolitano’s wing-woman: writer, poker player, and bad-ass Tuscaloosa lady Helen Ellis, with Napolitano’s proud brother.

Of course I stole the title of this entry from Hannah Tinti of One Story. I stole it because I liked the sound of it. That, and it was an easy way to lead in to my EL “exclusive:” Ann Napolitano does a killer peacock call.

Napolitano was at McNally Jackson last Thursday night for a conversation with Hannah Tinti about Flannery O’Connor. The underlying reason for the “conversation” was the publication of Napolitano’s new book, A Good Hard Look, set in O’Connor’s hometown of Milledgeville, Georgia. In this historical fiction, Napolitano imagines an interaction between O’Connor and the small town in which she lived out the end of her days.

1. Ann Napolitano with Hannah Tinti, at the ever-lovely McNally Jackson bookstore.

A Good Hard Look has been receiving rave reviews across the country and Napolitano was even invited to give a reading at Andalusia, the farm on which O’Connor lived. Now, as most readers of this blog are probably aware, O’Connor was what you’d call a bird-nut. She raised over 100 peafowl on her farm, plus ducks, hens, and geese (fucking geese). The peacocks factor heavily into Napolitano’s rendition of O’Connor, and the original title of the book was going to be A Thousand Eyes, which Tinti pointed out was also great, given Flannery’s deep Catholic sentimentality and the fact that a peacock’s feather looks like a God’s eye. Anyway, it was at Andalusia, according to Napolitano, that a Methodist preacher approached her and asked, “But do you know how to make a peacock call?” Napolitano replied that she didn’t. The preacher promptly ran outside, grabbed a handful of grass, and did this.

Napolitano’s mom had brought in some blades of grass for last night’s event, and though she said they were woefully small in comparison to their southern counterpart, Napolitano still was able to blow a loud, squawking, perfect peacock call for us. Hell, I was impressed. I was impressed more still, or maybe just reminded of my previous awe, when Tinti read aloud from Mysteries and Manners, which starts, conveniently enough, with an essay titled, “King of the Birds.” O’Connor’s razor-sharp style still hits me deep down. One quote Tinti didn’t read last night but is still my favorite of O’Connor’s:

A story always involves, in some dramatic way, the mystery of personality. I lent a story to a country lady who lives down the road from me, and when she returned them she said, “Well, them stories just gone and shown you how some folks would do.”

When I’m working on my own pitiful writing, it’s easy to fall into that easy trap of doubt, wondering how in the world I will ever make the story writerly or witty or well-plotted. O’Connor brings it back to what is really important: just show the reader how some folks would do. (It may have just been happy coincidence that a peacock escaped from Central Park Zoo this week and went sightseeing, but I’m going to take it as a sure sign I need to re-read O’Connor.)

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— Cassie Hay is a regular contributor to The Dish.

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