Flannery OConnors A Prayer Journal is a moving glimpse of a young writer seeking to balance her art with her faith.
In 1946, OConnor began writing the prayers in a common black-and-white schoolbook when she was 21 and studying in Iowa. At the time she was just beginning to perfect her craft, but the journal shows the same sense of humor, tragedy and suffering that would distinguish her later American masterpieces such as Wise Blood, A Good Man Is Hard to Find and The Violent Bear It Away.
In real life, OConnor could mix a polite, reserved Southern demeanor with almost brutal frankness, and the entries that begin with the words Dear God are no different.
Hell seems a great deal more feasible to my weak mind than heaven, she writes in one. I can fancy the tortures of the damned, but I cannot imagine the disembodied souls hanging in a crystal for all eternity praising God. It is natural that I should not imagine this. If we could accurately map heaven some of our up-&-coming scientists would begin drawing blueprints for its improvement, and the bourgeois would sell guides 10c the copy to all over 65.
But OConnor is hard on herself, too as a person and as an artist. Reflecting on her lack of charity to another writer, she laments her own failings. I have nothing to be proud of yet myself. I am stupid, quite as stupid as the people I ridicule.
Readers from all walks of life may appreciate the mixture of faith, self-doubt, determination and resignation that runs through A Prayer Journal, but book lovers will be pleased to note that she presumes God is quite well-read.
Various passages mention Coleridge, Kafka, Proust, Freud and Lawrence, and at times OConnor seems to be seeking a patron saint of literature.
Please let the story, dear God, in its revisions, be made too clear for any false & low interpretation, she writes in one prayer, and in another, gives voice to a feeling that every writer in the world can relate to. Dear God, I am so discouraged about my work.
Like Andy Warhol, OConnor was a devout Catholic, and she tried to attend Mass every day. God has given me credit for a few of the things He kindly wrote for me, she says, and concludes another entry with Dear God please help me to be an artist, please let it lead to You.
OConnor stopped writing the journal in 1947, and she died of lupus in 1964. A Prayer Journal is a slim book but a powerful one, since even at this young age OConnor was writing sentences that startle with their clarity.