It's easy to dismiss American fiction from the 1950s and early 1960s as chronicles from a period of quiescence, or as safe literature that was gathering its strength for the explosion of narrative invention that was to come. Such a position is easy, but, I think, wrong. Mid-century fiction was remarkably innovative, from the deep subversions of John Cheever to the chilling fables of Bernard Malamud to the cultivated rebelliousness of Jack Kerouac. But even in a literary period filled with odd ducks and anomalous characters, Flannery O'Connor created a voice so specific that still, forty years after her death, the sound of her prose is instantly recognizable. In a period when American intellectuals cultivated a cool aesthetic and hot politics, she wrote about boiling fingers of light and managed scarcely to mention politics except in the most oblique ways--quite an evasion for someone living in Georgia in the early 1960s. When many celebrated writers, notably Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer, cultivated an inclusive, urbane prose style that rejoiced in abundance, O'Connor's signature manner was short and abrupt, deliberately countrified and characterized by a jut-jawed impatience with nearly everything, especially anything valued highly by the literary culture of her time. Regarding the virtue of compassion, for instance, crankily defined by her in "The Grotesque in Southern Fiction" as "a word that sounds good in anybody's mouth and which no book jacket can do without," she went on to say, "Usually I think what is meant by it is that the writer excuses all human weakness because human weakness is human" (MM 43).