Artists like Gang of Four and Bob Dylan have famously referenced the work of Flannery O’Connor in their songs. So it was only a matter of time before a musician in our ongoing Book Club series would praise the Southern Gothic author, whose short stories and novellas made her one of America’s most critically admired writers before her death from lupus in 1964, at age 39. We recently caught up with Orenda Fink (singer of Azure Ray — and half of duo O+S, a collaboration with Remy Zero bassist Cedric Lemoyne , a.k.a. the Scalpelist), who discussed her admiration for O’Connor’s first novel, 1952’s Wise Blood.
Wise Blood is a satire whose protagonist, Hazel Motes, returns from the Korean War and struggles — at times comically — with his evangelical upbringing by launching the first “Holy Church of Christ Without Christ.” (Director John Huston’s movie version of the novel is newly out on DVD.) A child of the South herself, Fink told us why she keeps revisiting her dog-eared copy of the idiosyncratic Roman Catholic author’s novel.
SPIN.com: How did you come across this book?
I grew up in the South, so I’ve always known about Flannery O’Connor. The name’s just kind of all around. I really love her writing and I’ve been reading her for a long time.
How many times have you read it?
Probably three times.
What is it that draws you in?
I love the way she portrays Southern characters. I think she’s brilliant in the way she dives into their heads and pulls out the dark but comedic parts of the inner workings of a Southern person. Growing up in Alabama, I have encountered her characters on a daily basis. I think she’s brilliant.
Why this book and not her others?
I get new things out of it every time I read it. And I always make notes in the corners. I don’t have a good memory, so when I reread it’s new to me. Every time.
What did you take away from it during this particular reading?
I really love the chapter where one of the characters wants to meet a gorilla and it turns out there’s a man inside the suit and he gets really angry about it. He goes and attacks him and takes the gorilla suit.
Who would you recommend the book to?
I would recommend it to anyone who likes Southern Gothic literature. This is a really central book to read.
What else have you been reading lately?
I just read [Cormac McCarthy’s] The Road, which I thought was really wonderful. Also for Southern Gothic literature, I would highly recommend Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms.
How much of what you read influences your songwriting?
It influences it a lot. I’ll read a book and I’ll see a phrase and it will jump out at me. It will jump off the page. I’ll write it in a notebook and use it later in a song. There’s a line from the Truman Capote book that goes “there are wonderful moments when I thought I was free” and I wrote a song called “I Thought I Was Free” with that line.