Flannery O'Connor's Why Do the Heathen Rage?

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at a Work in Progress

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Pub Date Jan 23 2024 | Archive Date Feb 21 2024

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"Wilson does a great service in resurrecting one of O'Connor's lesser-known works."--Publishers Weekly

When celebrated American novelist and short story writer Flannery O'Connor died at the age of thirty-nine in 1964, she left behind an unfinished third novel titled Why Do the Heathen Rage? Scholarly experts uncovered and studied the material, deeming it unpublishable. It stayed that way for more than fifty years.

Until now.

For the past ten-plus years, award-winning author Jessica Hooten Wilson has explored the 378 pages of typed and handwritten material of the novel--transcribing pages, organizing them into scenes, and compiling everything to provide a glimpse into what O'Connor might have planned to publish.

This book is the result of Hooten Wilson's work. In it, she introduces O'Connor's novel to the public for the first time and imagines themes and directions O'Connor's work might have taken. Including illustrations and an afterword from noted artist Steve Prince (One Fish Studio), the book unveils scenes that are both funny and thought-provoking, ultimately revealing that we have much to learn from what O'Connor left behind.
"Wilson does a great service in resurrecting one of O'Connor's lesser-known works."--Publishers Weekly

When celebrated American novelist and short story writer Flannery O'Connor died at the age of...

Advance Praise

“What a delight that there’s a new Flannery O’Connor manuscript in the world, courtesy of Jessica Hooten Wilson, who has performed a true labor of love here, for which the literary world will be wildly grateful.”—George Saunders, New York Times bestselling author of Man Booker Prize winner Lincoln in the Bardo

Flannery O’Connor’s Why Do the Heathen Rage? is an important read for followers of this influential writer who died at age thirty-nine. Rather than complete O’Connor’s unfinished novel, Why Do the Heathen Rage?, Hooten Wilson pairs passages from the book with insightful commentary about O’Connor the person and the artist. One of America’s best-known Catholic writers, O’Connor has long been an inspiration to Christian writer Hooten Wilson, but the book doesn’t gloss over the late author’s anti-Black racism. For fans interested in a complex portrait of O’Connor and the novel she never completed, this work is required reading.”—Nadra Nittle, author of bell hooks’ Spiritual Vision and Toni Morrison’s Spiritual Vision

“Hooten Wilson has achieved a miracle with Flannery O’Connor’s unfinished novel, Why Do the Heathen Rage?, resurrecting the fragmented bones of this freakish Lazarus text and making it walk about on the page to the amazement of the literary world. Why has nobody attempted this before? I suppose because nobody’s been brave enough until now. Hooten Wilson is not afraid. In that way, she’s much like Flannery herself, a Southern writer with as much heart as brain. I stand in awe. Heathens all over will be raging to read this resurrected gift of a book. Maybe some Christians will too. Miracles do happen.”—Harrison Scott Key, author of How to Stay Married and The World’s Largest Man

“Encountering Flannery O’Connor’s words felt as if I were being transported in time before my birth while understanding clearly that the conditions that bore O’Connor, and her writing, offer an even clearer picture of who we were, who we are, who we are becoming, and dare I say, who we are constructed or imagined to be.”—Steve A. Prince (from the afterword)

“What a delight that there’s a new Flannery O’Connor manuscript in the world, courtesy of Jessica Hooten Wilson, who has performed a true labor of love here, for which the literary world will be...

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Featured Reviews

Writer Flannery O’Connor published many short stories, but only two novels before her untimely death at age 39. Thanks to academic Jessica Hooten Wilson, readers now have access to fragments of O’Connor’s incomplete novel, Why Do the Heathen Rage? Hooten Wilson has interspersed these short sections with research, insight, and speculation for a unique, enjoyable read.

This is not an almost-finished novel; The extracts contained in this book have sat unpublished for decades. But I really enjoyed the small tastes of O’Connor’s work; there’s no denying she could create outstanding characters. I would love to have seen how the story unfolded with our young protagonist and his deceptions.

Equally as interesting as the story is Hooten Wilson’s research. As an O’Connor reader, I have struggled with the racial aspects of her writing; there is no doubt she was a product of Georgina, the state in which she lived. Hooten Wilson does not shy away from this, assessing the various aspects of this argument.

I am a huge fan of Flannery O’Connor. As such, I absolutely adored this book. I also enjoy biographies that contain stories and experiences of the biographer, especially when it comes to female writers, so I really enjoyed reading how Hooten Wilson became an O’Connor scholar.

Fans of O’Connor and classic literature in general will love this book.

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A great look at an unusual discovery in O'Connor's archives. Obviously, it's not as exciting as finding a complete book, but Wilson does an excellent job of showing the work and exploring what we can learn from it - both about O'Connor herself and her worldview.

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This is such an important addition to O’Connor studies, Southern studies, and American studies. Wilson presents O’Connor’s unfinished novel, but she contextualizes it in a way that brings together the pieces that were to make the whole. Wilson doesn’t shy away from issues of O’Connor and race, and while she does not justify it, she explains the context in which we must look at O’Connor when it comes to race. It was a delight to read something new by O’Connor, and Wilson’s ability to bring it together and breathe life to it was masterful. I strongly encourage all my fellow scholars to read this book.

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Jessica Hooten Wilson writes a behind the scenes look at Flannery O'Connor's unfinished novel. We are given the snippets that O'Connor had written before her early death with criticism given by Wilson. Wilson looks at O'Connor's life and what her motivations may have been for her writing. We cannot know what O'Connor was planning for her novel, or if she had a clear plan, but I think Wilson's thoughts are keen. O'Connor sounded like she was too close to the material. If she was given more time to mull over her thoughts and characters we may have had a completed story.

Wilson carries us along with her examination of O'Connor's private life as it pertains to O'Connor's writing. So much is unknown but I think we all hope that Wilson is right is her criticism of O'Connor's motivation in writing. There is no easy answer and thus this book probes us as well as O'Connor in how we see other people.

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What a thrill to get a new O'Connor text, and how thankful we should be that a scholar as dedicated and thoughtful as Wilson is up to the task. The book itself feels clearly incomplete, but the glimpses and analysis are more than enough to make this book a must for any Flannery O'Connor fan.

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True confession: I've never read anything by Flannery O'Connor before!

But now I (likely :D) will.

I mostly picked this up because of Jessica Hooten Wilson, and it lived up to my hopes. Only within the last few years have I really gotten into literary criticism (which is hilarious, because I swore it off for years after attempting to be an English major and realizing, at the time, I had no desire to explore themes or pick apart what an author may or may not be trying to say). So maybe I enjoyed this even more because Wilson's done the work for me here. ;)

I appreciated Wilson's insights, compilation, and analysis, especially of the parts that, reading it cold/out of context many years later, seem troublesome by today's standards. It's thoughtful, deep, and articulate, providing plenty of food for thought and giving insight not only into O'Connor as an author, but her writing and thought processes over the course of writing a--any--book.

I received an eARC of the book from the publisher via NetGalley. All opinions are my own.

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Jessica Hooten Wilson delivers an impressive work of scholarship and creative thinking in FLANNERY O’CONNOR’S WHY DO THE HEATHEN RAGE: A BEHIND-THE-SCENES LOOK AT A WORK IN PROGRESS. For the legions of Flannery fans, this book is a must read from beginning to end. Readers looking for entertainment should go elsewhere, certainly to her readily available canon.

With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

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O’Connor has always been one of my favorite writers ever since being assigned a few of her stories in high school - it was one of my first exposures to dark twists and not-so-happy endings, and the way she writes about Southern culture is fascinating and she has a way of fleshing out characters in 20-page stories in a way some full novels can’t.

Wilson’s book is really more of a biography/analysis of O’Connor, spliced with bits of her final unfinished novel. after reading this, objectively there really wasn’t a lot to work with, as the novel was pretty much left in unfinished fragments that mostly lay out different scenes that would potentially have been brought together, but in its current form mostly jumps around in vignettes. a very cool look into one of my favorite writer’s final works, but I have to admit I was hoping there would be a bit more to the actual story as opposed to Wilson’s commentary making up the chunk of the book.

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I didn’t encounter Flannery O’Connor’s work until my first college English class. Her hair-raising short stories pulled me into a 1980s version of the “internet wormhole”—I checked out everything by her or about her that I could find in the library. Somehow, though, I was unaware that when O’Connor died in 1964 at age 39, she left behind an unfinished third novel.

Jessica Hooten Wilson set for herself the substantial task of telling the story of that unfinished manuscript. This included putting the fragments of the story into the historical and literary context of Flannery O’Connor’s time and then connecting the dots to her other published works. In Flannery O’Connor’s Why Do the Heathen Rage? Hooten Wilson stitches together the numerous drafts, serving the work and the worker with skill and respect.

There’s something incredibly metaphorical about an unfinished work written by a woman whose life was cut short, who was herself a work-in-progress with many unfinished thoughts about topics that are front and center in 2024. O’Connor was a product of her time and an heir to the legacy of Southern segregation.

Her journaled prayer, “Please help me to get down under things and find where you are,” reveals a heart that was willing to tackle the big questions. In this behind-the-scenes look at her unfinished manuscript with characters left dangling and a plot left unresolved, we’re given the opportunity to wonder about our own short-sightedness and the reality of our limited, time-bound vision.

Many thanks to Brazos Press and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which is, of course, offered freely and with honesty.

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