It’s been nearly 50 years since Flannery O’Connor died at the age of 39 in 1964, but her short stories are still fresh and powerful, built around a grotesque realism that is hard to shake. This is marvelous stuff, but be forewarned, there’s a chance these stories will haunt your mind a little after you read them.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories was O’Connor’s first book of short stories, published in 1955 when she had already suffered for several years from the lupus that would eventually kill her. The title story is perhaps my favorite story ever, the tale of a family vacation gone terribly wrong, first through the endless grousing of a domineering grandmother, then by an encounter with something even darker. Any reader who understands foreshadowing will know where O’Connor is going in this story, but still won’t quite believe the resolution.
In “Good Country People,” a woman with a sense of moral superiority and an artificial leg tries to seduce a simple-seeming country bible salesman and suffers a jarring humiliation for her efforts. “The Displaced Person” turns the ideal of the American immigrant on its ear, following a Polish war refugee who remakes himself in America, only to find that the locals won’t tolerate his success, even if it means their own downfall. In “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” a woman’s charity for a drifter twists into something darker when she tries to force the man into marrying her handicapped daughter.
These are just a few of the great stories in a collection that is the antidote if you’ve suffered from one too many books that overwork the cliches of quirky, funny, harmless folk in the Deep South. O’Connor sees the dangers of violence, racism, religious fanaticism, stubbornness, and hypocrisy that lurk beneath the surface, and what she reveals is terrifying.
Give A Good Man Is Hard to Find or The Complete Stories a try. Even if you’re not normally a connoisseur of the short story, you’ll find these tales satisfying and hard to forget.
Check the WRL catalog for A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories
Or try O’Connor’s The Complete Stories