Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Mary Hood and the Speed of Grace: Catching Up with Flannery O'Connor

Academic journal article Studies in Short Fiction

Mary Hood and the Speed of Grace: Catching Up with Flannery O'Connor

Article excerpt

In tracing the genealogy of Southern writers, reviewers often connect Mary Hood with Flannery O'Connor. Upon first encountering Hood's fiction, however, the reader may wonder what these two writers have in common, besides Georgia residency. No hard-shell Baptists, God-haunted psychopaths, or backwoods Elijahs people Hood's stories. Her characters are misfits of another sort: women trapped in destructive relationships, parents held hostage by their offspring, rural residents coping--awkwardly--with civilization's encroachment. Hood herself makes light of the comparison. Once a Long Island novelist inquired, "How far are you from where Flannery O'Connor lived and worked?" "About thirty years," Hood quipped (qtd. in "A Stubborn Sense of Place," 36).

This distance seems most apparent in Hood's stories that touch upon religious issues. In "Inexorable Progress," for example, the pew is only a place from which Angelina "[hates] many things, but Sundays most of all" (103); in "Something Good for Ginnie" the Baptist Church is just a screen behind which Ginnie Daniels smokes "a last cigarette before services" (71); in "Hindsight" the Catholic sanctuary is an echoing chamber where a desperate woman "[confesses] her total failure as a wife and [prays] for death" (95). Finally, in "After Moore," the church is merely a building with doors locked against a woman fleeing her psychologically abusive husband. In O'Connor's fiction, by contrast, the church is always open, for her characters--even the ones who profess atheism--hide Jesus in their heads "like a stinger" (Wise Blood 15). Their obsession with religion is visible everywhere: on Parker's back, under a carnival tent, out at Powderhead clearing, and in a bedroom with a peculiar ceiling stain.

Despite God's apparent abdication in Hood's works, beneath the surface of her stories lurks a powerful spiritual dimension. Ibis dimension does not surprise readers who know something of Hood's fife. A devout Methodist, Hood not only attends church regularly but also teaches Sunday School. She is, thus, as conversant with the Judeo-Christian tradition as was O'Connor, and she subtly conveys this familiarity--and her own faith--in her fiction. One might note, for example, the gardens in "Solomon's Seal," "After Moore," and "Desire Call of the Wild Hen," stories that concern the failed relationships between modern-day Eves and Adams. These gardens represent the protagonists' longing to recover Eden, where presumably a woman and a man lived harmoniously.

Further evidence of Hood's God-consciousness and, hence, her kinship with O'Connor is her interest in evil and the human response to it. "Something Good for Ginnie" is a portrait of a totally corrupt young woman, but primarily it examines how people accommodate the devil in their midst. Ginnie's mother represents one extreme: an alcoholic, she deliberately renders herself oblivious to her daughter's depravity:

She didn't worry; she trusted. Not to trust seemed dishonorable;

when doubt shaded in, and chilled her, she turned her mind's

channel to another station, just like she did the TV. . . . When they

were driving along and passed a road-killed animal, she said,

"Probably just playing possum," even if you could smell it. . . .

"What'll it take to convince you?" [her husband Doc] wondered.

(81)

Doc, on the other hand, makes pact after pact with the demon he has fathered. Though he is wise to Ginnie, knowing, for instance, "where the birth control pills from his inventory were going, [hIe never challenged her, just went on pretending she was who she thought they thought she was" (80). His Faustian bargaining involves bribery: when Ginnie demands a Datsun T-roof-Z as her reward for making good grades, she gets the car even, incredibly, after causing young Jordan Kilgore's death.

Hood's study of two people cravenly cohabiting with evil just because it has grown up under their roof recalls O'Connor's exploration of the familiar devil in The Violent Bear It Away. …

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