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Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende; 2010; HarperCollins
A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor; 1955; Harcourt
I have loved Isabel in my heart for most of my life, feeling vicariously through her characters and their romances and intrigues especially when I was young and coquettish. Flannery is newer to me, and like most people I’ve met in my later years, it’s been a relationship of keeping certain distances.
One book is a magical fairy tale showcasing New Orleans as the queendom for all those fairies; the other is a series of brutal, barren Southern gothics. Both writers telling of the lives of the South. Isabel’s story is about Tété, a woman-warrior out on her glorious own; Flannery’s stories are heart-breakers of cruel circumstance and small-souled people.
Reading these two together is like the lusty and lush love-fest wrapped up in the dirty sheets afterward, much like time spent in New Orleans should make you feel; the coquette and the distance-keeper, inviting and rejecting at once, making you feel sticky and gross right after giving you some everlasting gobstopping.