Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire

Academic journal article Flannery O'Connor Review

Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire

Article excerpt

Richard Giannone. Hidden: Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire. New York: Fordham University Press, 2012. 198 pp. [$27.95] cloth.

After Flannery O'Connor spoke at the University of Notre Dame in 1962, she was briefly introduced to an English instructor in his late twenties who, having gotten beyond mistaking her name for a man's, had been teaching A Good Man Is Hard to Find to his sophomores. They had a politely cordial exchange, and then O'Connor ambled away on her aluminum crutches. However, she increasingly assumed an authoritative place in the instructor's imagination, for over the next fifty years he wrote two books and a dozen essays on O'Connor's fiction.

Although Hidden briefly recounts Richard Giannone's meeting with O'Connor and devotes a few pages to her fiction, his latest book is not the story of his career-long encounter with O'Connor's work. Or is it? Giannone's title is a one-word provocation to the kind of unveiling that Frank Kermode in The Genesis of Secrecy (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1979) regards as the hermeneutical response to narrative mystery. It invites inquiry into what the author has been concealing, what the book reveals, and what both may leave still out of sight. Giannone's subtitle, however, announces a less ambiguous direction. Reflections on Gay Life, AIDS, and Spiritual Desire names the way it recounts Giannone's thirty-year partnership with Frank, who, in the face of the devastation to New York's homosexual community that began in the 1980s, leads the scholar to contemplate a God that he could have never theorized or imagined. Hidden is written with more bodily joy than Richard Gilman's Faith, Sex, Mystery (New York: Simon, 1987), whose titular concerns Giannone certainly takes to heart, and concludes with more spiritual serenity than Joseph Torchia's "Inside Flannery O'Connor" {The Flannery O'Connor Bulletin 25 [1996-97]: 81-102), the wrenching reflections of an AIDS victim whose pilgrimage to Milledgeville confirmed his identification with the suffering and dying O'Connor. Yet even as Giannone's reflections lay bare how he found eros leading to agape, his story keeps crossing-in hidden and not-so-hidden ways-with the one that O'Connor lived and the ones that she imagined. Writing about such intersection of reader and text, Paul Ricoeur claims that ".. . we never cease to reinterpret the narrative identity that constitutes us, in the light of the narratives proposed to us by our culture" (32). (See "Life in Quest of Narrative." On Paul Ricoeur: Narrative and Interpretation. Ed. David Wood. New York: Routledge, 1991. 20-33.) O'Connor's fiction prefigures the story that gets configured in Giannone's account of his life. Hidden reviews not a professional lifetime of reading O'Connor but a life of being read by O'Connor-or, at least, by Giannone's readings of her. Students of O'Connor who know Giannone's Flannery O'Connor and the Mystery of Love (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1989) and Flannery O'Connor, Hermit Novelist (Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2000) will often glimpse the fiction writer who lies hidden throughout these pages. Indeed, such readers might find that Hidden manifests the interpretive journey that was lived between those bookends, both of which were dedicated to the partner who led Giannone out of hiding. His memoir begins with the revelation of love, journeys into the kind of desert that hermits make home, and ends in heartfelt mystery.

Whereas some critics in the 1970s had come to judge O'Connor as icy-hearted, Giannone in Flannery O'Connor and the Mystery of Love disclosed a surprising tenderness in her brutal fiction. Stripped of all sentimentality, her fiction presents lonely hearts who confront a raw challenge to move from the self-sufficiency of sin, through compunction, and toward compassionate intimacy. O'Connor's stories "unfold a movement from derelictio, a being lost and abandoned," as Giannone writes in that book, "to delectatio, the joy that will never cease" (Mystery 4). …

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