I spent this week absorbed alternately in two extremely different storytelling styles—every day, more by chance than by design, I read at least one Flannery O’Connor story (for the most part from Everything That Rises Must Converge) and watched at least one episode of Rebecca Sugar’s Cartoon Network show Steven Universe.
The two worlds—for O’Connor’s stories all seem to take place in the same dangerous, frustrating world, their characters obsessed with the same questions, in a way that makes her collections cohere almost like mosaic novels—of Steven Universe and O’Connor’s oeuvre almost couldn’t be more dissimilar. These are different media and genres used to tell wildly different stories to different intended audiences. At least as far as I've made it into the series, Steven Universe is a deeply optimistic show set in a world (or at least a city) that has moved beyond social constructs, with a hugely diverse cast of shape-shifting, gender-bending characters who seem to only notice difference in order to celebrate it. In each episode the day is saved, the monster(s) vanquished—mostly bloodlessly.
Flannery O’Connor’s characters, on the other hand, are martyrs or monsters or Damocles beneath the sword, sometimes all three—and if not every one of them is grotesque or intolerant, then at least their world is. (I know O’Connor herself disagreed with that reading of her work, but my goodness.) O’Connor’s Catholicism informed her writing to the extent that I sometimes find it difficult, as a secular reader, to be sure I’m experiencing even the basic plots of her stories in the way she intended. And it’s rare enough for everyone to get out of an O’Connor story alive that when it happens, I often reread the last paragraph just to make sure I haven’t missed a heart attack or stray gunshot.
It may be a stretch to even mention Sugar’s work and O’Connor’s in the same breath. But I do think that Steven Universe and Everything That Rises Must Converge are alike in the richness, depth, and consistency of their respective styles. Sugar works at the intersection of reality and fantasy, in terms of genre and social justice, her show looking forward with a commitment to being playful, optimistic, and trans-everything. O’Connor paints a dark, violent world with a chilling economy of style—perhaps more than any other writer, she makes me conscious of how many extra worlds I use, in my writing and in life.
It’s been fascinating and inspiring this week to consider Rebecca Sugar and Flannery O’Connor, two women who created fiercely unique worlds and narratives stamped with their own unmistakable styles. I’ve really enjoyed reading interviews with both women—try starting here for O’Connor and here for Sugar, though not if you want to avoid spoilers for either’s work. And, though it may sound like I’m fishing for a cohesive end to this post, I’ve found it extremely inspiring to take the same week to consider two creative women who work with such vastly different styles and themes. There are so many different kinds of writing, and so many different ways to illuminate a fictional world.