Adam Gopnik on J.F. Powers

An interesting article over the The New Yorker on J.F. Powers, a little-known writer with a very different kind of Catholic voice:

Powers was an American Catholic whose stories decorated these pages for many years, and who has been brought back into the spotlight by the appearance of a new collection of his letters, “Suitable Accommodations: An Autobiographical Story of Family Life” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Edited by one of his five children, Katherine A. Powers, the book provides a wonderful picture of a now lost type: the radical-liberal Catholic of the forties and fifties, whose allegiance to the rules of the Church (all those children!) was part and parcel of his allegiance to what would now seem an extravagant, not to say extremist, egalitarian politics. Katherine Powers rightly calls this “the nearly forgotten American Catholic countercultural religious and social ferment of the mid-twentieth century.”

Gopnik goes on: “The collection of letters reveals that he spent the war years as a conscientious objector, and as a sympathizer with the Detachers—a Catholic movement, never officially approved, but apparently tolerated, that insisted that American materialism and militarism were both evils to be avoided at all costs by good Catholics. The idea of an American Catholicism whose central purpose was to stop the national-security state and the supermarket—in those days, supermarkets were seen as Wal-Mart is now—is alien to us, and Powers’s immersion in the often self-defeating politics of left-Catholic activism, with its glamorized poverty, is fascinating to follow from letter to letter.”

Gopnik also makes some interesting points about the perpetually dismal economics of writing. Check it out!

Oh, and while you’re there, you might also want to check out Adelle Waldman’s essay on the “problem” of female beauty in literature. It doesn’t have anything to do with this blog, but I thought it was good reading.  

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