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Wingless Chickens, Bayou Catholics, and Pilgrim Wayfarers: Constructions of Audience and Tone in O’Connor, Gautreaux, and Percy

By author: L. Lamar Nisly
Product Code: H813
ISBN: 9780881462142
Product Format: Hardback
Publisher: Mercer University Press
Availability: In stock
Price: $35.00

Flannery O’Connor, Tim Gautreaux, and Walker Percy, are all Catholic writers from the South—and seem to embody very fully both parts of that label. Yet as quickly becomes clear in their writing, their fiction employs markedly different tones and modes of addressing their audience. O’Connor seems intent on shocking her reader, whom she anticipates will be hostile to her deepest beliefs. Gautreaux gently and humorously engages his reader, inviting his expected sympathetic audience to embrace the characters’ needed moral growth. Percy satirically lampoons an array of social ills and failings in the Church, as he tries to get his audience laughing with him while he makes his deadly serious point about the flaws he finds in the Church and larger culture. Why do these three writers assume such divergent images of their audience? Why do texts by three writers who each embrace their Southern locale and their Catholic beliefs seem to have so little in common? Nisly helps readers understand these authors’ fiction by examining the role that place and time had in shaping each author’s idea of an audience—and, by extension, his or her manner of addressing that audience. More specifically, Nisly focuses on each author’s experience of Catholic community and each author’s placement in relation to the Second Vatican Council. Linking together biographical information and a reading of their fiction, Nisly argues that O’Connor’s, Gautreaux’s, and Percy’s sense of audience has been shaped in significant ways by each author’s own local experience of Catholicism in his or her home region as well as the larger, global changes of Vatican II that transformed Roman Catholicism.
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Review: CHOICE - July 1, 2011
According to Nisly (Bluffton Univ.), Flannery O'Connor, Tim Gautreaux, and Walker Percy exhibit striking differences in the ways both geography and Vatican II influenced their work and their place within the Roman Catholic community. Nisly posits that O'Connor's defensiveness resulted from belonging to a minority in Protestant Georgia and that Gautreaux is not as edgy because he grew up in Catholic territory. The Catholicism that undergirds Gautreaux's fiction is a given that continuously reveals the humanity of his characters, whereas O'Connor's belief was that humanity was blind and deaf and needed to be forced to revelation. On the other hand, Percy--who converted to Catholicism as an adult and chose Covington, Louisiana, as his home--offers warnings to unsuspecting readers and attacks disbelief through satire. Percy reacted against post-Vatican II excesses; Gautreaux does not engage Vatican II in his work; and O'Connor, although she died before Vatican II changes went into effect, seemed to favor some of them. Although Nisly offers no new conclusions about O'Connor, his discussion of Percy answers significant questions about his Catholicism, and the section on Gautreaux is particularly welcome because so little has been written about him. Summing Up: Recommended. Lower-division undergraduates through faculty; general readers. -- J. P. Baumgaertner, Wheaton College (IL)
Review by: Randall M. Miller, Saint Joseph's University - February 23, 2011
L. Lamar Nisly has worked his magic in tracking the grounds of faith and place to discover the ways that three important southern Catholic writers presented and represented the worlds they knew and imagined to particular audiences. With deft readings of Flannery O'Connor, Tim Gautreaux, and Walker Percy, Nisly positions each author within the context of a larger changing Catholic consciousness and conscience coming from Vatican II, either in anticipation of it or response to it, and identifies the particular concerns of each writer, whether living as a Catholic isolated in a hostile world or as one of many in a cacophony of Catholicism in southern Louisiana, and points in-between. The result is a fresh look at both the writers and the varieties of “Catholic” awareness that invites reconsiderations not only of these three gifted writers but also of the meanings of faith, time, and place in any literary expression and the importance of audience expectation in informing such expression.-

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