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)