I had read a lot of Flannery O'Connor, but didn't know as much about Merton, Dorothy Day, or Walker Percy. Elie's assessment of O'Connor's writing is not only accurate, but insightful. He is a very gifted theologian, literary critic, and biographer.
In reading him, I gained several new insights into O'Connor's stories and how her life and Catholicism influenced them. Some of his images (for instance, describing Mrs. Turpin in "Revelation" as a "hillbilly Thomist") were absolutely delightful and right on target. Through Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, he also paints a wonderful picture of the strange and wonderful world of Southern Catholics.
What is most impressive about this book, however, is how he weaves the lives, writing and faith journeys of four very different persons together, showing that indeed, grace perfects nature, even when the "nature" is quite different from one personality to another. They were all clearly influenced by the same threads of Catholic theology and spirituality, but reflected it back to us in very different ways.
This book was interesting to me because of its literary and theological themes. But even more, it was spiritual reading. Again and again I stoped reading and compared their spiritual journeys to my own. Reading Elie's book has deepened my faith and given me hope that despite my own doubts and the "bumps in the road" on my spiritual journey, I might still one day hope to achieve some measure of holiness. What's more, I highlighted many passages which will surely be fodder for some future preaching!
Fr. Charles Bouchard, OP