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7 responses to “Books by Tom Molanphy’s Bed”

  1. dick cummins

    Tom: — Your bed books comment brought back a memory from a ’65 workshop Form of Fiction class with Vonnegut. He assigned “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” saying Flannery O’Connor was a brilliant short story writer to be emulated.

    The story was the first I’d read and I had the same problem with it I had with Crane’s Red Badge of Courage. My needed “sense of disbelief” got unsuspended. With Crane it was in high school on page 47 “…the steel ramrods clanked and clanged with incessant din… the flaps of their cartridge boxes unfastened…” and then he even added a helpful footnote——”ramrods: rods for ramming home charges in muzzle-loading firearms…”

    Well you cannot “ram” a cartridge home. I know it’s a small thing but I knew Crane had never been in a battle and didn’t know what the hell he was talking about.

    Flannery O’Connor did this with her “Good Man” plot cat. Her story tabby sits quietly——perhaps cat-napping——in a lunch basket with a cloth over it on the car’s backseat floorboard. The car bounces along for seemingly hours as its epistemologically-challenged driver prattles on about first causes and then, probably unable to take it any longer, the embittered cat leaps angrily out of the basket and sinks its claws into the driver’s neck.

    Then it grapples upward. Which causes the “first-causes” chauffeur to crash into a tree. Then——and I am not making this up——this driver grabs the howling cat with his free hand and (somehow, not unlike Crane’s ramming of cartridges) he “…throws it brutally out the window and up against a tree.”


    My disbelief got unsuspended again trying to visualize this. It was obvious that poor Ms. O’Connor never owned a cat as she would have known that flinging live pissed off cats out of a car window——with talons embedded in the driver’s hand——is only possible in philosophical fiction.

    But I get it Tom——whatever you may think of her writing voice it was a style very much “in the moment” and grips the reader by the throat. Especially when “… coming off a page and through the mouth of a fat monk.”

  2. Tom Molanphy

    Dick, thanks so much for the response. Your post gave me a lot to think about——not the least of which was imagining what a writing workshop with Vonnegut must have been like. Wow.

    I definitely get the point on the cat. I didn’t own a cat at the time, so it didn’t rattle me. And I’ve completely romanticized the memory since then, so it’s fairly impregnable. But I own a cat now, and the details on the cat do not seem possible.

    Although I definitely appreciate it when fiction writers get every detail straight, I think I read fiction for the larger truths. If McPhee was off on plate tectonics or Ehrlich off on Wyoming native plants, I would put the book down. I pick up fiction for style and voice and imagery, all of which, accurate or not, sticks with me for years and years.

    But I can’t argue with the idea that writers——artists——should get every detail right, no matter how small. Maybe O’Connor should have put a peacock in the lunch basket…? :)

    Thanks again for the response!

  3. dick cummins

    I see you spent time in Missoula, Tom. I was at the U there from ’76 – ’81. Did a two-part post for ww2bw awhile back about quitting “the disappointment business” (writing) when my impertinent agent dumped me.

    I was at Montana then in ’79. The context might bring back Missoula memories.

    BTW I think we all read fiction for “larger truths…for style and voice and imagery” (“sensibility”) and O’Connor certainly had a voice, and a sensibility——cat challenged or not. Vonnegut was not happy when I told him I’d read some criticism of O’Connor’s “Catholic piety” that the critic intimated was a thematic problem with her fiction.

    KV was quite prejudiced against religion and if you drop me an e-mail ( I’ll attach a short piece I did about our second day of class with him when he tried to run off a new student that had come in late. She was a nun. I used fictional techniques to enhance the tale of course but the KV incident is accurate.

    Back to an author’s accuracy with details. Hey, just because what some fiction writer is telling me may not have actually happened, had better not mean that it’s not “true.”

    1. Tom Molanphy

      So good to connect with you via e-mail, Dick!

      Thanks again,

  4. susan tepper

    Tom I love the way you described the books you keep near your bed, in particular the section about the McPhee book, and your ‘experience’ of living on the fault.

    1. Tom Molanphy

      Thanks Susan! The opening of McPhee’s “Assembling California” describes Mussel Rock, which lies on the San Andreas Fault. Mussel Rock is within walking distance of our house.

  5. Tom Molanphy on Blackouts, Security, and Unwanted Noise

    […] just wrote a response to that question for the series “Books By My Bed.” Here’s the […]