Review: ‘The Complete Stories’ of Flannery O’Connor

o'connor

The Complete Stories

by Flannery O’Connor

  • Date finished: Aug. 2, 2013
  • Genre: Fiction, Short Stories
  • Year: 1971
  • Project: n/a
  • Reading List: Summer 2013, 25 Books to Read Before You’re 25, National Book Award winners
  • Grade: A
  • Thoughts upon reading: 

When you’re a fan of Southern literature and slightly morbid short stories, you just can’t go wrong with Flannery O’Connor. You just…can’t. She is such an important figure in American literature, and her commentary on race, prejudice, religion and regionalism defines so much of how we should understand our past. When I read A Good Man is Hard to Find, I find so many reasons to reflect on society, the inherent nature of evil, human behavior and why we treat each other the way we do. When you have a writer with that much power, you can’t help but be in awe.

However, what I love most about O’Connor’s writing is her treatment of the grotesque. There’s always something off with her backward Southern characters – something that when you look at it too closely, it reveals the hidden kernals of ugliness in us all. Plus, they may have been written half a century ago, but read The Displaced Person and I promise, you’re going to feel slightly queasy with yourself and society (even in 2013).

Plus, let’s not forget I’m a fan of horror, and O’Connor’s stories are nearly always deliciously twisted. Sometimes, her grotesque turns are tragic; most of the time, they’re very satisfying. In nearly every case, you feel that the story – and the allegorical meaning behind it – concludes with a slightly disturbing but still satisfying thud. O’Connor isn’t afraid to kill off her characters, even if they don’t deserve it, and she certainly doesn’t cop out when it comes to finding the right ending to the 31 short stories collected in The Complete Stories. Reading all 31 of them in a row definitely reveals O’Connor’s literary mechanisms – by the last story, I knew what was going to happen after the first page. However, I was disappointed in none of them.

Now, O’Connor has been lauded for her commentary on race, discrimination, integration, prejudices and other themes important to early 20th century Southern communities. However, those are things I’ve studied before. This time around, I found that O’Connor also deals heavily with the subject of impotence, particularly when it comes to her male characters. The women in Flannery O’Connor stories are typically wrapped up in their own ignorance and prejudices, and nearly always pay the price for their behavior and attitudes. However, many of her male characters are actively trying to distance themselves from the prejudices of their past – for example, the many “son” characters who go north for college and return wanting to be writers, or the liberal professor from The Barber. However, despite their apparent good intentions, these men are largely useless and weak. They discover they are not brilliant thinkers or writers, and have instead been emasculated by their fundamental upbringing and, like children, still cling to “their mama.” And if the men aren’t impotent, they’re simply useless bystanders that smoke, go about their work and agree with their wives. It’s an interesting look at gender relations, and one that I’d like to explore farther.

Now, with this book, I can check off yet another from my 25 Books to Read Before You’re 25 – score! Getting there (even if I turn 27 in less than two months). For now, I leave you with this great quote from O’Connor on the nature of her “horror stories”:

I am tired of reading reviews that call A Good Man Hard to Find brutal and sarcastic. The stories are hard bu they are hard because there is nothing harder or less sentimental than Christian realism. … When I see these stories described as horror stories, I am always amused because the reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror.”

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One thought on “Review: ‘The Complete Stories’ of Flannery O’Connor

  1. Pingback: 2013: A Year in Reading | Paperback Fool

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