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Flannery O’ Connor: The Complete Short Stories

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We’ve all had those teachers.  The ones where everything they introduce is golden.  I once had a Chemistry teacher who dropped a giant chunk of Sodium in a vat of water and ran to the back of the room while the whole thing exploded.  She returned to the front of the room and said nonchalantly, “I ran to the back of the room, because my hair is still a little wet from my morning shower and I didn’t want that happening in my hair!”

I took an AP English class my senior year in high school with another teacher who picked books that seemed like they were written just for me.  She even made Hamlet interesting and relevant. In the spring, she assigned several short stories and one of them was Flannery O’Connor’s “Good Country People” and I was instantly hooked on these odd little stories.

In college, bought a used copy of The Complete Stories.  I made my way through the volume of stories over the years, picking it up and reading one or two entries each year.  Along the way, I read her essays on writing in Mystery and Manners; her novel Wise Blood and got part way through her letters published in Habit of Being.

I decided that this would be the year that I finish reading The Complete Stories.  When I offer my reflections over the next couple of weeks, they will most likely be about the stories from the last third of the volume, since I read the first pages nearly 10 years ago.

When I read O’Connor, I don’t “get it” right away.  I have to ruminate on the images the play of words to discern the meaning of the text.  I am struck by her description of color.  A yellow dress set against the deep red earth of Georgia.  O’Connor is both economical and lavish in her writing.  What I mean by this is, since this a short story, she cuts right to what you need to know, yet the things that bear the most weight she stops long enough to paint their picture for us.

The stories towards the end of her life became even more shocking and tragic.  Lots of violent deaths and emotionally constipated characters! I keep thinking that since she was such a devout Catholic that she must be trying to tell me something with all that violence, but I’m not entirely sure what.  I remember reading that a lot of Christians were put off by her stories and I brushed it off because I know quite a few Christians that can only tolerate the mildest of conflict in a story if it is to be considered Uplifting and Inspirational.

Ho Ho I scoffed to myself as I made my way through the book.  These stories aren’t so bad after all.  Buncha prudes can’t handle a little bit of scruffy writing.

Then I read, “A View of the Woods”.  I don’t want to say too much lest you be tempted to read it – and you should- but I felt a little sick to my stomach after I finished.  O’Connor wasn’t kidding when she sent that story to her friends with a note that read: “I enclose a little morality play of mine for your Christmas cheer but as it is not very cheerful, I’d advise you to leave off reading it until after the season.” (source)

At this point, my favorites are still the first stories I encountered all those years ago.  Good Country People and A Temple of the Holy Ghost are tied for first place as my favorites in the anthology.

We’ll see if I discover a new favorite next week as I finish the book.

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