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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Everything That Rises Must Converge

           On Monday (6/13/11) I discussed the American author of Southern Literature Flannery O'Connor.  I was not surprised, but a bit disappointed in the number of commenters who had not read anything by her.   It is my hope that more of you will make a genuine effort to seek out her work and at least read a story or two.

           Writers of fiction are encouraged to not just write, but to also read, read, read.  They should not just read in their own genre or only current fiction, but they should also get at least an overview of the literary classics that have influenced today's literature and other arts.  We can learn much through what other authors have done with the craft of writing.

           Reading Flannery O'Connor is like a master class on how to write well. Her mastery of dialogue, description, and developing theme will leave you nodding in appreciation if not awestruck with the wonder of her genius.  Her stories are uniquely absurd, surreal, and at times may make you shudder with horror.

          The era of which O'Connor writes is one of change when the ways of the Old South were falling to the Civil Rights Movement and modernist thinking.  Many of her influences come from the Bible and a number of philosophers.  The stories she has written are like none you may have ever read before and may haunt you and make you think long after you have read them.  

           As I read the Brad Gooch biography Flannery: A Life of Flannery O'Connor I wanted to reread her stories since I had not read them for nearly thirty years.  I was distressed when I could not find my copy of   Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works.   Then, when my neighborhood Borders store was closing I found the short story collection Everything That Rises Must Converge on sale for a very inexpensive clearance price.  I grabbed it and my follow up read to the biography was in place.

           Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge is her second and final collection of short stories which was published in 1965, a year after her death.  The book is a collection of nine stories, each one meticulously crafted into a masterful work of literature. The stories are bizarre and frightfully freaky in some cases.  Some are like Stephen King on literary steroids while others approach religious mysticism in a down South setting.

            The stories deal with issues of race and racism, class distinctions, and generational conflict.  A few of the stories fall into the realm of nightmarish Southern Gothic literature with endings that may make the reader cringe in horror. Other stories raise questions of social consciousness or religious doctrine.  However there is a beauty in the writing that makes a reader want to savor the words and envision the images portrayed.  The characters in the stories have been described as grotesque, and yet they are like people you may know or see in Walmart.  This is an amazing cast of characters that you will not soon forget.  These are stories that will haunt you.

           The story that is my favorite is called "Revelation".   Most of the narrative takes place in the waiting room of a crowded doctor's office.  The banter that ensues here is comically realistic in it's context, yet sad in the true content of what is being said as the group of people discuss the class rankings in society.  The final revelation of the main character left me with chills and wide eyes as a most amazing vision is described.  The vision has not yet left my memory and will be with me for a long time.  You have to read it to believe it.

         In the interest of keeping this commentary short I won't give any examples in the form of quotes, but many of O'Connor's stories can be found on-line (see links below).  If you are wary of purchasing your own copy of her books, you may wish to sample them first.  Then, if you like what you see, I encourage you to get your own personal copies of her books for your library.  If you are affected like I have been, you will want to read these stories many times.  There is much to be learned from her writing style and much to contemplate in the stories themselves.

           If you do read any of O'Connor's stories, please let me know what you thought--I'd love to hear some opinions.   If you have already read her work, what is your favorite story?


Here are some links to a few stories that can be found on-line:

A Good Man Is Hard To Find (text)

A Good Man Is Hard To Find  (audio as read by the author)

Revelation




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42 comments:

  1. Thanks for a good post Lee, also for the links I will go to when life is less hectic.

    Have a good day.
    Yvonne.

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  2. I don't recall ever reading Flannery O'Connor before, but who remembers the stuff they make you read in school?

    I did just read Revelation. Wow. I will have to read more of her stories. I think my mind will be processing this one for the rest of the day.

    Thanks for the links and the heads up on a must read author.

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  3. The doctor's waiting room one is a great story. I like the one where a son and his embarrassing mother are on a bus, can't remember which collection that's in. She is truly a liteary great, and with so few females allowed in that particular club I think she really should be spoken of (and read) a lot more. I'm with you Lee!

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  4. I am a big fan of short story collections. I'll put it on my reading list.

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  5. I've never read her work, but I do have a sneaking suspicion I have a book of her works in my personal library. If I don't there is a trip to a used bookstore in my somewhat near future. Thank you for talking of her work and giving me a nudge in that direction.

    Agree about reading EVERYTHING, btw. Well, I don't do horror. Ever. [H.P. Lovecraft is amazing, though.]

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  6. With my reading list in front of me, and I am behind, I don't know what decade I will get to fiction.

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  7. I actually have read O'Connor, just in the past year. Maybe I was simply in the wrong frame of mood, but... I didn't care for her. A few of the stories I liked, most of them left me unmoved and unimpressed. I had gone into it (The Collected Works, 600+ pages, and I read the whooooole thing) with eager anticipation of finding a new author I would really love, and felt disappointed I didn't.

    I think we might read something at a particular time in our lives and it works for us, then, and at others... When the LOTR movies came out, I reread the series, which I'd adored as a teenager and young adult, and now, I badly wanted to edit down Tolkien's endless fight scenes.

    Not trying to discourage others from reading O'Connor, I would encourage everyone to read her and see if you agree with Lee, or me. But I would say, to everyone, do your own reading, do copious amounts of it, and form your own opinion. Don't do an Emperor's New Clothes move and decide you love an author because "everyone" says you should, or dislike one because your best friend hates him.

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  8. I am one of those that doesn't venture out much beyond the genre I write which is YA. I know, I know so horrible! When I do, however, I am in love with what I read. With that being the case I don't know why I don't do it more often.

    As for O'Conner, you have me a believer. I am going to head over to my library and see what I can find. These books sound FABULOUS!

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  9. Oh, I know I must have read some Flannery O'Connor in college, but you've inspired me to look her up again. With such praise, how could I not?

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  10. Yvonne -- Yes, I know about that after vacation catching up. I'm still doing it.

    K.C. -- Hope you'll check out Flannery.

    Cathy -- I never read Flannery until college, but it could have been because she was still a contemporary writer when I was in public school and her stories hadn't made it to the texts. I'm still thinking about my rereading of ETRMC--there is a lot of deep thinking that the stories can evoke.

    Mood -- the bus story is Everything That Rises Must Converge from the book which I am commenting on today. It makes a great statement about racial equality and old ways versus new. There's really not a bad story in the collection, though some stand out more than others.

    Miranda -- If you read any Flannery please come back and let me know what you think about her writing.

    Kimberly -- Please try to read her work. I don't think you'll be sorry if you like literature that gives you a good mental work out.

    Gregg -- Flannery's writing might be of special interest to you since it is so deeply grounded in spiritual and Biblical themes. "Revelation" might be a good story to check out since it's available online.

    Lee

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  11. I have to admit, I've never even heard of Flannery O'Connor until your post..I will definately check her out and let you know what I think. I love the classics..I lean mostly to the old Russians and Oscar Wilde...also Theodore Dreiser, Stephen Leacock, and Steinbeck..thanks for introducing a 'new' author!

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  12. Sorry Lee, I have not read O'Connor but your description made me want too! Thanks for the links and I'll get back to you.
    Jules @ Trying To Get Over The Rainbow

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  13. Flannery's stories are all so beautifully written. I need to get another copy of Everything That Rises Must Converge as I lent it to some1 & didn't get it back.

    I think Revelation is awesome. So is the Comforts of Home.

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  14. Beverly -- Great comment! You are so right about reading things for oneself to judge them. College Literature classes can be wonderful because they expose us to things that we might not normally have read and delve more deeply into them. I hope some readers will take up your challenge to read O'Connor on their own and let us know what they think.

    Deana -- It's a good thing to branch out into other genres and see how they work. Please do check out O'Connor's work and let us know your thoughts.

    L.G. -- I think you'll be glad you read her again (or for the first time).

    Eve -- This is why I'm doing my series on Flannery this week. I want more readers to find her. Rediscovering her recently has been exciting and eye-opening for me.

    Jules -- I think you are one who might definitely appreciate her work. I'll be anxious to hear what you think.

    Lisa from Nadir-- Comforts of Home is one crazy story. That one would make a good movie I think. I want to get the rest of Flannery's work eventually to build up my library with the authors I enjoy most.

    Lee

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  15. What I liked about The Violent Bear It Away was the religious conflict represented by Old Tarwater (the old man) and Tarwater (the boy) - sample excerpt-
    In the darkest, most private part of his soul, hanging upsidedown like a sleeping bat, was the certain, undeniable knowledge that he was not hungry for the bread of life.

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  16. Like Cathy, if I was forced to read her in school, I don't remember!

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  17. So much of her work is remembered long after it is read. "A Late Encounter With the Enemy" - it's all about relationships and the unforgettable characters that they are.

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  18. I hang my head in shame because I haven't read her. If you could recommend one book to start, which one would it be?

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  19. Brianna -- The theme of inner conflict with religion, God, and Jesus Christ is one that is prevalent in her stories. Her characters often seem in rebellion against God and yet searching for answers in their spiritual lives.

    Alex -- I agree that when some of this great literature is forced on us we often are not particularly interested. I assure you that if you read these pieces with serious intent to understand them, you will not soon forget them.

    Paula -- Flannery's characters are amazing and memorable.

    Theresa -- You are one among many who has not read this great author. She only published 2 novels and 2 collections of short stories so there is not much to choose from. Her most well-known book is her collection of short stories A Good Man Is Hard To Find. I would start with either of the short story collections since you can assimilate her work in smaller doses. Then you can work up to the novels. There is a collection of complete works that might be good if you want to purchase O'Connor for your personal library. Brad Gooch's biography of the author is an excellent introduction to O'Connor the person and is of special interest to anyone who is interested in the process of writing and the road to publication. I gained a lot of new insight in reading the biography in regard to her life and the themes and source material of her fiction.
    Let us know if you read anything by her--I'd really like to get some reactions.

    Lee

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  20. Flannery O'Connor is one of my biggest inspirations. THE DISPLACED PERSON haunted me for years. I even wanted to name my daughter Flannery, but I was vetoed. My family is from the south and her stories rang terrifyingly true to me. I need to go back and treat myself to some revisits of her words. Thanks for reminding me of such an important voice in literature.

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  21. I'm one of those who hasn't read her stuff. Thanks for the links to check (when it's finally summer & I have some time!)

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  22. great post and great advice about reading more..

    Everyday Life

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  23. Wow! I've missed reading your blog. Been busy with the lives of my kids and their spring sports. I come back, and find another good post that moved your readers to leave good comments and discussions with you.

    I didn't know who Flannery O'Connor was, but I do now! :)

    Thank you. Hope I'll have the opportunity to read her work.

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  24. I meant to comment when this first went up but got distracted by Googling Flannery O'Connor. :)

    Great links and advice.

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  25. Leslie -- Glad to find such a fan as you. I'm glad that I've rediscovered her writing.

    Jemi -- You'll have some good summer reading ahead!

    Becca-- It's a good thing to be well read.

    Anita -- Good to see you back. I know how life can take over blogging time as it well should.
    Flannery should be someone a Richmond girl can appreciate.

    Raquel -- Darn that Google anyway! I know exactly what you mean. I've been doing my fair share of reading about Flannery on Google. I hope you read some of her work.

    Lee

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  26. Thank you for the links. I'm going to read Revelation today after I finish something for my publisher. I'm intrigued.

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  27. I love O'Connor, one of the few writers I had as required reading in college that I fell in love with. She's so dark and so funny at the same time that she's addressing such deep issues in such a subtle way--I admire her so much. I'm not sure which of her stories is my favorite. "Parker's Back" was the first story of hers I ever read, so maybe I can call it my favorite.

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  28. Oh, you've got my favourite story of hers there! I remember reading this and just being blown away by how powerful her imagery was, and how real the characters in such a short space. It's not a 'pretty feel-good' story, but wow.

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  29. She sounds terrific, I'm looking forward to finding her books. I can't wait! Thanks!

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  30. Ciara -- I hope you will let us know what you thought of the story.

    K.C.-- O'Connor is not heavy handed with her themes. She gives us the story for us to consider more deeply in order to contemplate the meaning. I think many readers who just dismiss her writing after reading it did not really think about what was said.

    Talli -- Now I know you have good literary taste. Her stories can be somewhat disturbing, but on a deeper level they do have that wow factor.

    Heather -- I hope you find an opportunity to experience Flannery's writing for yourself.

    Lee

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  31. Thanks Lee, I read your first post... watching the youtube and hearing her voice was chilling..but I must admit I didnt give it a second thought after I left (except to show my husband the youtube... Shame on me! I am going to make it a point to read something by her... I promise to get back to you!
    Take care,
    Have a wonderful afternoon!
    Lisa

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  32. Arlee it is always so nice to come to your blog. You have such a wealth of information and helpful things to help us grow in our writing skills.
    Thank you for stopping by today.
    Blessings

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  33. Ohhh, I love Flannery O'Connor, but its been ages since I've read any of her work. I'm going to seek out "Everything that Rises" immediately. Thanks for the nudge to read her again.

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  34. I am working on reading some "classics." My fav is Somerset Maugham...The Razor's Edge in particular.

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  35. She sounds very interesting Arlee. I will give it a look see!
    Love Di ♥

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  36. Lisa from Fishy Face-- Look forward to hearing your thoughts on her work.

    Bethe77-- Thank you for your kind comment.

    Langley -- I've enjoyed coming back to Flannery's writing after such a long time.

    IB -- I recall seeing the Tyrone Power version of that movie and really enjoying it. Have not read the story yet.

    Diana -- So happy to see you here again. I've missed your visits.

    Lee

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  37. I wanted to thank you for making the very first comment made on my blog, ever!

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  38. Hi Lee .. obviously someone we should be reading to get a realistic overview of that era .. someone who was prepared to write her mind.

    Interesting to know about her - thanks .. Hilary

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  39. Thank you Lee; I'm intrigued by her work! I think she was ahead of her time; I will check her out~Thanks!

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  40. Thanks for those last three comments Violet, Hilary, and Ella.

    Lee

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  41. I don't remember, maybe I read it all the way back in Astoria- Queens when I was in school...who remembers, but now you got me intrigued about Flannery's writing! Thank you for visiting and leaving me such lovely comments on my Patriotic tablescape! Have a great 4th. weekend with your wife and rest of the family. Hugs, FABBY

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