Page 1 of 1

Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Sun Jun 30, 2013 11:52 pm
by Algernon Sydney is Dead
Feature: Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse by Andy Duncan
Drabble: Prosopagnosia by Ken Liu
Genres: Comedy Fantasy

Image

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Father Leggett stood on the sidewalk and looked up at the three narrow stories of gray brick that was 207 East Charlton Street. Compared to the other edifices on Lafayette Square—the Colonial Dames fountain, the Low house, the Turner mansion, the cathedral of course—this house was decidedly ordinary, a reminder that even Savannah had buildings that did only what they needed to do, and nothing more.

He looked again at the note the secretary at St. John the Baptist had left on his desk. This note read:
OCONNORS
MARY
PRIEST?
CHICKEN!


Episode Art: Dave Krummenacher

Twabble: “ I think my cell phone might be sentient. When I charge it, it bleats! Is it just me, or do Androids dream of electric sheep? ” by Varda

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Thu Jul 04, 2013 1:05 am
by StalinSays
The 'balls' pecking non-sequitur seems like the spiritual successor to Killing the Morrow's.It did seem less out of place.

Enjoyed the story overall, though I can't say I grasped its meaning or purpose.

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Thu Jul 04, 2013 1:08 pm
by ROU Killing Time
StalinSays wrote:The 'balls' pecking non-sequitur seems like the spiritual successor to Killing the Morrow's.It did seem less out of place.

Enjoyed the story overall, though I can't say I grasped its meaning or purpose.
Kinda like life, in general?

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Fri Jul 05, 2013 3:59 pm
by Varda
A Southern Gothic story about Flannery O'Connor? YES. A thousand times, YES. The whole thing read like a send-up of all the things O'Connor is famous for: birds (no peacocks though), unusual Christ figures, religious authorities experiencing crises of faith, and of course, all the weird crap that happens in the American South that the locals don't find odd. All we're missing is a hollowed-out Bible filled with nudie playing cards. I didn't get the point until they revealed Mary's identity, but in retrospect all the elements are there.

It reminded me most of O'Connor's novella Wise Blood, perhaps because of how utterly shattered the protagonist is by his encounter with chicken-Jesus (Wise Blood involves a mummy and a guy in a gorilla costume).

Is it just me, or did Mary seem to be screwing with the priest at the end by mailing him the article about Mike the Chicken? Sorta her signature twisted sense of humor. Poor guy will never be the same again.

I glanced at her biography on Wikipedia after hearing the story and was tickled to learn that she really did have a pet chicken she'd trained to walk backwards.

It would be amazing to hear some actual O'Connor on the DC someday, although I suspect her stuff might be a little too weird.

I loved the Drabble on this episode. Psychologically terrifying, and scientifically accurate. Prosopagnosia is my second-favorite agnosia.

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Fri Jul 05, 2013 8:33 pm
by Flintknapper
The story was exactly the sort of thing I expect drabblecast to run. It was strange and irrelevant. I am not sure I got it, but it didn't matter. It had a chicken pecking a priest in the nuts. For that scene alone, it gets two thumbs up.

Also loved the drabble and the twabble (congrats again varda). It kind of surprises me that Ken Liu did the drabble. I didn't expect him lurking on the drabble board. I think of him as one of the brightest stars in writing science fiction at the moment. The guy's stuff is amazing. So Ken if you are reading this, please keep writing. I sure as hell will keep reading.

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Thu Jul 11, 2013 5:24 am
by tbaker2500
I liked it, but it felt very incomplete to me. I don't understand what happened to the priest. He went through... some sort of spiritual transformation... where... well, I dunno. It sounds like Varda, tho, had the context in which to understand this story. Varda, would you do us all a big favor and help lay out the context? I'd like to understand it better. Thanks!

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Thu Jul 11, 2013 8:11 am
by Varda
Sure, Tom, I’d be happy to share my thoughts. Forgive me as this’ll probably be long-winded. Hope this helps a little.

The point of the story - TL;DR version:
The priest’s nervous breakdown/moment of revelation provides a young Flannery Mary O’Connor with the template by which she’ll write all her future stories. The key sentence is near the end, when the adult Flannery is thinking about the headless chicken: “It reminded her of her childhood, and in particular of the day she first learned the nature of grace.” This is a story about how Flannery learned the nature of grace, but told mainly from the priest’s perspective.

(Obvious disclaimer: this is just my opinion on what the story's about, based on what I know about Flannery)

Long version:
Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was a Georgian novelist and short story author famous for writing in the Southern Gothic and Southern Grotesque genres. She liked to use bizarre, gross, violent, and twisted imagery and characters to communicate her themes (she’d be on this forum right now if she were alive today). If you think of an old-timey circus freak show, you’ve got a sense of the tone and characters.

Flannery was also an extremely devout Catholic, so her stories are rich in Christian religious themes and symbolism. Being a Catholic living in the heavily Protestant American South, she was a bit of a religious outsider most of her life. Her stories usually feature Protestants and are often satirical about the sort of religious hypocrisy that goes on in culturally religious places. Oftentimes her stories feature preachers, pastors, or religious laypeople who are pious on the outside, but are otherwise terrible people: selfish, racist, unmerciful, uncompassionate, etc. These characters routinely commit murder, abuse disabled people, and tear down their own family members in the stories.

A major theme of her work is grace. In Christian theology, grace is the idea of undeserved divine favor, communicated by way of the imperfect being made perfect through Jesus. Characters in her stories usually come to a point where they have an encounter with the divine, although not in ways you’d expect. Since she wrote Southern Grotesque, Flannery often personified Jesus in ways that seem rather blasphemous by mainstream standards. For example, in her story “Greenleaf”, God is personified by a rampaging bull. In “A Good Man is Hard To Find”, a serial killer stands in as the agent of God. A chicken would fit right in with this crowd of Jesuses (Jeses? Jesi?).

Another important element of her stories is violence. She liked to use violence as a plot element to make hard-headed characters accept their moment of grace.

Flannery was also obsessed with birds. She kept peacocks on her property all her life, and liked to incorporate birds in her stories as important symbols.

The formula for her stories goes something like this: Hypocritical self-righteous person encounters unusual personification of Christ and experiences a moment of grace (once again, defined as a realization that they’re face-to-face with something truly divine and that they don’t deserve to have such an encounter), often accompanied by violence or threat of violence, and has the opportunity to accept or reject grace. The ones who accept grace are often shattered by the experience, but become better people in the end.

Now let's bring it all back around to “Unique Chicken”.

Father Leggett begins the story as a smug, pompous jerk. He’s comfortable in his righteousness and talks down to everyone around him. He belittles his secretary for reading his theology books and talks down to Mrs. O’Connor when explaining the Bible verse from Matthew about how Jesus is a chicken. Generally, he’s full of contempt for humble people and thinks he’s superior to them.

From there, he has a real encounter with Jesus in chicken form (possibly, just a psychotic break; your call). This drives him to his moment of grace in the chicken coop: the revelation that something Divine has really intruded on his life, and that now he has to deal with it. Does he accept that Jesus-Chicken is really there, confronting him with what a sorry human being he is, or does he reject it and stay the way he is? Jesus-Chicken pecking his balls is quite O’Connor appropriate as an act of violence pushing him toward a decision. At the end of the story, we learn that Father Leggett became a very good priest, although a strange one. His encounter with Chicken-Jesus caused him to become more like actual-Jesus. This was the day that Flannery learned the “nature of grace” because she saw an undeserving, nasty person transformed by an intrusion of the Divine into his life.

Of course, the real fun of this story is the unreliable narrator component. Young Flannery saw what happened to Father Leggett and went on to write stories based on her interpretation of the events. But then we get a hint at the end that poor Leggett’s a shattered human being. There seems to be a disconnect between what Flannery thinks of the article, and how it’s received. Maybe what Flannery sees as him accepting grace really was just a psychotic break. Maybe there’s really no difference between the two. Maybe she’s just trolling him. I think it might be the latter, personally.

I’m still chewing over parts of the story. What do you guys think of the chicken-walking-backward theme? Or of the bit when he goes to the movie theater?

O’Connor is well worth a read if you’ve never read her before, especially since it’s so freakin’ weird. I would EASILY put her in my top 10 favorite short story writers ever. Need a place to start? Here’s a few of my favorites, along with rather spoiler-y descriptions so you can get an idea of the weirdness factor:

- “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”* -- nasty old lady has a nice long chat with a serial killer.

- “Good Country People” -- world’s most evil Bible salesman versus a girl with a wooden leg. Features a hollowed-out Bible full of whiskey and nudie playing cards.

- “Everything that Rises Must Converge” -- fat, racist old lady and her nasty son take the train to weight loss class.

- The Violent Bear it Away (novel) - kid is kidnapped by religious fundie uncle. Fundie uncle dies, and kid starts hearing voices. Also contains a baptism gone horribly, horribly wrong.

- Wise Blood (novel) - guy in a gorilla suit, Jesus-mummy, and viciously competing street preachers


*Not to be confused with my all-time worst Freudian slip: “A Hard Man Is Good To Find."

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Sat Jul 13, 2013 3:06 pm
by tbaker2500
Fantastic! Thank you for the excellent companion article to this story. I now can see that this story is brilliant, but narrow in the scope of accessibility by the general public. When I said it was incomplete, I was right; you need to know of O'Connor to fully understand the story.

Thanks Varda!

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Sat Jul 13, 2013 9:24 pm
by strawman
A+

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Sun Jul 14, 2013 4:05 am
by Varda
Thanks guys. For what it's worth, I was completely lost right up until the end of the story, when the punchline landed. Up until that point, all I could think of was this cartoon. (Warning: supremely stupid!)

"...But he's a CHICKEN!"

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Mon Aug 12, 2013 11:20 pm
by El Barto
I completely missed the big picture but loved the story anyway - I'd like to meet that little girl trying to punch her guardian angel as payback for him watching her on the potty.

The language of the piece was great too - there was a time when cookies were made from grease!

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Thu Aug 15, 2013 12:48 am
by lyda
tbaker2500 wrote:I liked it, but it felt very incomplete to me. I don't understand what happened to the priest. He went through... some sort of spiritual transformation... where... well, I dunno. It sounds like Varda, tho, had the context in which to understand this story. Varda, would you do us all a big favor and help lay out the context? I'd like to understand it better. Thanks!
Well, context aside, I spent pretty much the entire story waiting for the priest to actually become a chicken. And while the nut pecking was amusing, I did kind of feel let down that he didn't transform.

Re: Drabblecast 286 – Unique Chicken Goes in Reverse

Posted: Sat Oct 12, 2013 7:56 pm
by Varda
Someone recently PM'ed me this link re: my twabble for this episode. Now ALL of our Androids can dream of electric sheep! Way cool. :)