One of my friends and a former colleague, Dan de Roulet, used to urge me to read some piece of fiction. He just knew I needed to do this, but deep inside I had to admit that I simply didn’t know how to read fiction. One day Dan suggested I read Flannery O’Connor’s great piece, “Parker’s Back,” and I was overwhelmed with her imagery and prose. So, I summed it all up for Dan with a short sentence or two and he gave me that look, attended as it was by a Mona Lisa smile, of saying, “You really don’t get it, do you.” So, we chatted over and over about Parker’s Back and I came to see more than I had first seen. So, today I begin a short series with Dan about another Flannery O’Connor piece, called “Revelation.” Today I summarize it a bit from Collected Works.
Then Dan will ask me questions. By the way, he’s an English professor, has an excellent book called Finding Your Plot in a Plotless World, and he’ll teach me to read a story by reading “Revelation.”The story is a devastating critique of Christian hypocrisy. Mrs. Turpin enters a doctor’s office with her husband and, one by one, she sizes up everyone — none of them with anything but brutally critical judgment. She ranks people from African Americans (O’Connor uses the “n” word) to white trash to good Christian folks like her. An East coast educated young woman, whose irritation rises as the story moves on, hauls off and wallops chubby Mrs. Turpin and likes to kill her, but doesn’t. The young woman is taken away, Mrs. Turpin goes home, and has a vision of seeing folks like her descending into hell while others seem to be advancing toward heaven.