on 3 April 2000
Flannery O'Connor was a genius. Her prose is beautifully restrained, powerful, frightening and, disturbingly, often hilarious. I haven't encountered a writer of short fiction yet who hasn't doffed their cap to O'Connor. This collection takes the reader from slightly scrappy early writings to the faultless work of her final years. The stories here are so essential that I am giving this book five stars despite its revolting 1980s conceptual jacket, which depicts a baldie with a triangular penis standing in what can only be described as a Drama Space.
To be honest I had never heard of Flannery O'Connor before seeing it advertised in the back of a copy of Jack Finney's `The body snatchers'.
O'Connor's stories are mostly pretty short but she somehow managed to pour more feeling and description into them than many writers manage in a whole novel.
Set in the deep south of an America now long gone. Her protagonists are poor, both white & black,(be aware that her reference to black Americans may have been seen as sympathetic and forward thinking for her day and although still sympathetic in viewpoint she used language that is distinctly racist in the modern world),. Often scrabbling to survive they all share common points. They are lonely, often confused, ground down by life or by the many selfish & harmful predators who they meet or share their lives with and hope is something long since extinguished in their lives.
There are exceptions to those rules here and there but they are few and far between.
O'Connor's ability to place her reader on a sweltering sidewalk in a fading main street in nowheresville or in the kitchen of a broken down shack is startling and is what at first keeps you reading. The detail somehow seems almost too much to take in yet takes up so little of the narrative that it's impossible not to be drawn in. Then the characters grow too so that although you move from story to story quickly the characters stay with you and their plight & that brief moment of their lives you've been shown lingers in the memory long after you've put the book down.
Not every story appeals to everyone but so many do that the overall feeling of `being there' and the emotion you feel remains deep and affecting.
This collection is testament to a talent that has, certainly in this country, been overlooked and really ought to be as feted amongst the classics.
An excellent collection of stories that hold a magnifying glass over the human condition and leaves an indelible impression upon the reader.
on 7 March 2016
Knowing how short and filled with pain Flannery O'Connor's life was (she lived mostly hidden away at her farm, and died at only 39, after long periods of excruciatingly painful illness), might, perhaps, explain the relentless misery her short stories amount to. Her novels, by the way, aren't any happier.
As I struggled through this extraordinary book, I must admit I was torn. On the one hand, you can't help but gasp in admiration at the wonderful style: straight to the point, uncluttered, unsentimental prose; observations of places and people so detailed, and rendered in such original but unpretentious ways that puts "beautiful" writers like Updike and Bellow to shame; sparse but immensely powerful characterizations. On the other hand, the overall feeling the stories induce is one of unrelenting gloom and misery, and after a while you can't take it anymore - you put the book away, and dread coming back to it because it will only bring more literary punishment.
Flannery, that young talented woman, picked, it seems, the worst of humankind as her subject. Sadism, including child-on-child cruelty; horrific murder, just for the sake of it; the killer effects of stupidity and cruelty combined; abuse and prejudice of all sorts; violence; racism so pervasive, you feel that not even the Apocalypse will dislodge it from people's hearts and minds; and, generally, all-around peril and the meaninglessness of life - this is the sad, sad vision this wonderful writer created. It's pure horror, albeit beautifully understated. Life really is like Hobbes described it ('solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short'), and the genius of Flannery perhaps was to show that life is made so not by living outside society, but by the very society we live in. She certainly did not let us avert our eyes!
The saddest thing is that everything rings true. The worst thing is that, seeing what's happening in our world today, we have no choice but to conclude that human beings are, now, as inhumane and stupid as they were in the time and place of Flannery O'Connor, in the Deep South of the 1930s and 1940s. People's capacity to do evil unto others has no sell-by date. So, it's an aesthetically pleasing but unhappy, deeply uncomfortable read.
on 7 March 2015
If you've never heard of this author then I would urge anyone to give her a try. The stories are short and as powerful as a punch in the stomach. These are worlds which, although seeming to be perfectly ordinary and everyday, are, in some ways are so strange and weird, they might almost be inhabiting science fiction territory
on 25 February 2016
Great Catholic author who wrote with a clear "Southern" style, meaning she adopted the quarks, seeming contradictions, and weird manner of writers in the American south. She called herself the "Hill Billy Thomist." This is an a combination of an American slang term that means somebody from the country side who is considered a bit "uncultured" (Hill Billy) and a follower of the writings and thought of St. Thomas Aquinas (Thomist). She also appreciated many aspects of Southern culture that she called "Christ-haunted" owing to the great influence of Baptists and other Protestant churches in the South. Her works should be better known world wide especially by a Catholic audience.
on 14 January 2011
This book was recommended to me by a friend, and I would definitely pass on this recommendation to anyone who enjoys short stories. O'Connor's stories focus on America's Deep South and often featuring farm owners or farm hands, as they struggle to scratch out a living and cope with the changes that were about to hit the South with the Civil Rights Movement and the Great Society, and how simple questions of morality can touch people's lives.
Despite being often based around a narrow type of people, these 32 stories are anything but repetitive - personal highlights include Parker's Back (about a man with a tattoo obsession and a highly devout wife), Why Do The Heathen Rage? (about a moralistic single parent attempting to help a tearaway), Enoch and the Gorilla (about a country-boy who attempts to befriend a circus gorilla) and Greenleaf (about tracking an escaped bull on a farm).
Although her writing style may at times appear slightly dated, these are still vibrant stories, written with great energy. She consistently shows faith in her own characters, with many of them undergoing epiphanies at the conclusion of the stories. Her writing is often beautifully restrained, and the dialogue is especially worth treasuring, frequently writing with authentic southern phrases and turn of speech. Definitely worth checking out.