lunes, 19 de julio de 2010

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories

A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories (Harvest, no date)
by Flannery O'Connor
USA, 1955

Since I don't think I'd even thought of Flannery O'Connor since my high school days (note: in geological time, comparing the here and now to my high school days is a little bit like comparing the here and now to the Pleistocene Epoch!), I'd like to start off by giving Emily a great big thanks for putting O'Connor back on my reading radar/map with this review of A Good Man Is Hard to Find last July.  That being said, it's tough to know where to begin with this one.  While I enjoyed all ten of the short stories that comprise the collection, O'Connor's conception of the Christian South as a cracker heaven and hell was decidedly unpleasant for me at times: even without the title tale's serial killer, for example, her characters indulge in so much petty meanness and casual racism that it's easy to imagine a 2010 version of the volume being entirely populated by bathtub meth dealers in mullets.  I don't know enough about O'Connor to hazard a guess as to whether she meant this series of dysfunctional family portraits to serve as a metaphor for the South or as a reminder of the need for God's grace (the stated purpose of all her writing per the blurb on the back of the book) or what, but there are at least three things about O'Connor's writing here that I found totally arresting.  First, she's absolutely unflinching as an observer.  Of course, this is very much a pro that comes with some built-in cons: if you're at all uneasy with the use of the term nigger, for example, don't expect O'Connor to make you feel any less queasy about it.  Second, she's rarely predictable as a storyteller.  While I'd feared that she might be a little didactic when writing about the nature of grace and redemption, O'Connor was ballsy and unconventional enough to--as Emily points out--suggest that a four year-old boy in the river actually might be closer to God while drowning than back safe at home with his abusive parents.  Strong stuff, and not exactly what I expected from a wordsmith with a "religious" point of view.  Finally, O'Connor's a consummate craftsman in the sense that both the unexpected physical descriptions (the young woman in slacks "whose face was as broad and innocent as a cabbage" [1]) and the devastatingly casual nods to race relations in the '50s South ("Her Negroes were as destructive and impersonal as the nut grass," she writes of one character [136]) constantly keep you on your toes as a reader.  Can't say that I've found my new favorite writer or anything like that--but another misfit for the gallery is always, uh, nice.  (http://www.harcourtbooks.com/)

Flannery O'Connor

Up for Grabs:
Interested in reading A Good Man Is Hard to Find?  My "gently used" copy is up for grabs to the first person who asks for it in the comments box (U.S. addresses only, sorry rest of the world).

13 comentarios:

  1. Don't you read any happy books? I might have to take up a collection to send you Chicken Soup for the Demented Soul....

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  2. *Jill: Ha ha, I've actually been thinking quite a lot the past week or so about the need to take on something light for a change! On the other hand, Perec's Life A User's Manual alone might have made me "happy" enough to last all year!

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  3. I've wanted to try O'Connor for a while and your review has certainly piqued my interest all the more. I was never very interested in Southern fiction prior to my move to Nashville, but now that I'm living in the buckle in the Bible belt, I've become increasingly interested in seeing how this part of the world is examined through literature. Great review, as always!

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  4. *Steph: The book is yours if you want it (just send me your mailing address in an e-mail), but thanks for the kind words regardless! By the way, I like your Southern fiction idea/project--I'm hoping to read a Faulkner later in the year and some more O'Connor at some point, but I'd love to hear what other authors you have in mind. In the meantime, thanks as always for the visit!

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  5. That's what I love about O'Connor - she won't let the reader sit still. No complacency in her work.

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  6. OK, yeah - I am so far from understanding O'Connor's take on "religion" and "grace" that, um, I'm not even sure what to say about that. I've read interviews with her where she talks about how the approach to grace is painful, and existence is a mystery - and I can kind of get where she's coming from there, but I am just so secular that I spend half of my time while reading her being like "WHY WOULD YOU BELIEVE IN SUCH A GOD??" I have to remind myself it's not a logical choice, etc., but at times it gets to be too much. I can see why you would label the drowning toddler story ballsy, but I also find the author's worldview in that piece just...sick. And not in an intriguing, edgy way, but in a way where I am actually borderline offended. (Which almost never happens, as you may have gathered by now.)

    Of course, I spend the other half marveling at her writing chops, so it kinda-sorta all evens out...? In any case I have a copy of her novel Wise Blood on my TBR, so I'm interested enough to give her another shot.

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  7. Loving Jill's comment. I have some lovely, happy children's books to send you. Or maybe you can read the book I am enjoying now, The Most Beautiful Book in the World? Beauty and love from the darkest moments and sources. A hybrid for novice happy people.

    OK, I have yet another weird family story for you. On my 16th birthday, an aunt gave me this book because I have the same birthday as O'Connor. To say I was conflicted after reading it is an understatement. Like Emily, I am so wowed by her writing abilities that I can muster no indignant dismissiveness for her God-charged themes.

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  8. *Amateur Reader: From the little I've read of O'Connor, agreed. She's a very provocative writer in that regard.

    *Emily: Wouldn't want to make too much out of a single photo, but that snapshot I posted makes me suspect that O'Connor would feel quite at home in some ways with the characters she created. Which might or might not have anything to say about the "originality" of her theology given how much I'm projecting. Anyway, a bio (Flannery O'Connor and the Christ-Haunted South) is on its way to me to (hopefully) help suss things out. In the meantime, I get what you're saying about the spiritual "sickness" of the viewpoint expressed in "The River." And am sure you know that me saying the exposition of such themes was ballsy is in no way an embrace of the philosophy behind the same. Really enjoyed the experience overall, though, so thanks again for reminding me about O'Connor in the first place!

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  9. Frances: I read an O'Connor tale (or two?) in my teens, but I can't remember what kind of reaction she provoked in me back then even though that was my American literature loving heyday. Nothing at all like your vivid 16th birthday gift story. By the way, the God stuff in O'Connor really fascinates me on some level--not at all like the typical Baptist or Catholic themes I would have expected going in. P.S. "Novice happy people" = LMAO genius. You are too much, my friend!

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  10. This does sound like an interesting collection and one that I had never heard of before. I hadnt heard of the author either... oops! I might have to see if I can get a copy from the library as I am trying to read much more short stories this year.

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  11. *Simon: "Interesting"'s a good word for her b/c O'Connor definitely provokes you to take a stand at times, like it or not! On the short story front, Frances has me interested in the possibility of checking out some Daphne Du Maurier sometime soon. Cheers!

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  12. Richard - you MUST give Daphne a try with her short stories they are quite dark, I have yet to read The Birds (yes the one that became the Hitchcock movie) and Other Stories but its very much on the top of my TBR radar.

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  13. *Simon: Good to know! There's only so much peer pressure I can fend off at any one point in time, so now you and Frances have me strongly leaning to those short stories as my intro to Du Maurier. Thanks for the tip!

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