Sunday, August 28, 2011

Everything That Rises Must Converge

1. I love her name.
2. I love the title.
3. I love this cover.
4. I did not love this book.

I was reading this on my lunch break the other day and someone I work with said, "Flannery O'Connor... now that's some Southern craziness." And that's exactly what this collection of short stories is... Southern craziness.

I don't generally read non-fiction or short stories for the same reason. They don't typically hold my interest because it's hard to feel an emotional attachment to cold hard facts or characters that will disappear in 27 pages. But these stories were well crafted, and if I didn't like the morbidity of the stories, at least that made them suspenseful and interesting: Who's gonna die in this one?

I hastily tacked a "2 out of 5 stars" rating on goodreads, but then I reconsidered my rating. Flannery's stories are all about family tension, race, faith, and class issues in the South in the tumultuous era of the 1950s and 1960s. And after second thought, I realized that I couldn't give Flannery the same rating that I previously gave other books that I marginally hated.

What came to me later is that these stories are powerful representations of what was wrong with Flannery's South. Each story can be read as a Medieval morality play. Flannery clearly had some strong and divisive feelings about race and class in the South and used her stories as a platform to express them. It strikes me that her worldview was probably unusual for a woman born and bred in Georgia and that's what makes them even more interesting. If a Northerner had written these stories, would they have the same impact? But Flannery had seen the things she tells of in the stories and they reflect the world in which she grew and studied human nature.

Being a devout Catholic, she could have just written out homilies with a few examples from life to punctuate them. Instead, she wrote horribly gruesome "Southern craziness" with highly unlikable, deeply flawed characters--that could have been you or me or Flannery--and told of their selfishness, their bigotry, their greed, the meanness of their spirits. Then she kicked the reader in the stomach with a horrible murder or a grisly death, leaving us to ruminate over the ugliness humans make of a beautiful world, with nary a sermon in sight.

After second thought, I'll give this:
Rating: 3/5 stars. She made me think.

Now I'm in need of some lighter fare. No survey of Southern Literature is complete without Mark Twain. Off to read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom and Mark have always tickled my funny bone.

1 comment:

Introverted Jen said...

I read a few of her stories in school, but I'm ashamed to say I haven't read any since. This is on my list though and I will get to it one day!