flannery and the backwards chicken

Hesteropt

Brad Gooch opens “Flannery,” his biography of Flannery O’Connor, with a lost moment: an account of how when O’Connor was 5, the Pathe newsreel company sent a cameraman to her home in Savannah, Ga., to film a chicken she had trained to walk backward. Such an image highlights O’Connor’s lifelong fascination with birds, but most telling is that even at this age, she was elusive, standing just outside our grasp. “O’Connor’s screen debut,” Gooch writes, “exists in all its fragility in a Pathe film archive. . . . For all of four seconds, O’Connor, a self-possessed little girl, is glimpsed in glaring afternoon light, a wisp of curls peeking from beneath her cap, calmly coping with three chickens fluttering in her face.” Here we have a stunning metaphor for not only her writing but also her existence: brief, glancing, almost impossible to pin down.

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