Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review : Flannery O'Connor - A Good Man Is Hard To Find And Other Stories (1955)


Country: USA

Genre: Short Stories/Southern Gothic

Pages: 265


Any literature teacher who would like to tackle the southern myths could only give Flannery O'Connor to his students and get away with it. While it wasn't what I first thought it was, A Good Man Is Hard To Find And Other Stories is a courageous, realistic and most of the time funny examination of southern morals. It's kind of ironic that it's a woman who ended up being so honest about exposing the dark side of the south. I mean, William Faulkner sure did it before her, but his novels aimed at the elite who understood stream-of-consciousness narrative and at the southern people who spoke with all the idioms. It's Flannery O'Connor who opened the doors to the south and introduced it to us for what it is, a wonderfully inspiring place where people try to hold on to the folklore that made their reputation.

The title story, A Good Man Is Hard To Find for example, explores the myth of southern hospitality and religiosity. Good country people are warm, welcoming and god-fearing, right? Well, not ALL the time. This story features a respectable grandmother who's trying to fend up a dangerous criminal named "The Misfit" as he sticks up her family on a country road. I don't want to spoil too much, because it's pretty short, but values, righteousness and absolute collides with practical notions of freedom and self-preservation. It's kind of epic for twenty-something pages. Another great story is Good Country People who attacks the myth that all country people are nice. It's one of those stories that earned Flannery O'Connor that classification of gothic. It's going to leave you locking your doors at night and telling strangers to fuck off. 

There is a strange sense of cold anger to Flannery O'Connor's work. A bitterness, but a love for her land at the same time. A desire to tell the truth I guess. She's not the biggest stylist, but she knows how to create lasting images, which is more important to me than flowery prose. Her now-legendary short story collection happens in an interesting place in history. It's often qualified as a one of the first real noir work of fiction because it clearly lacks of straight up good protagonists, but there were people like James Cain or David Goodis. Her main accomplishment was to bring good country people into the equation. The good minded, sincere folk can also get entangled in life-threatening situations. It's an inevitable law, like entropy. If you're too nice and too helpful, people will try to get the best out of you, wherever you are.

I wasn't left with a big impression of A Good Man Is Hard To Find And Other Stories. I liked it, but it didn't wrap my imaginary the way Poe, Lovecraft and even Philip K. Dick did with their tortured short stories. It might have something to do with my East Coast, urbanite, efficient upbringing, but some of her stories like The Artificial *NWORD* felt a little flat to me. She opened the gates of a most often mystified part of the United States and juxtaposed the truth to the hear-says and legends. It's a great exercise in many genres without ever attaching a label to her work. Interesting but not lasting. At least, not for me. I might give a second look to some of the stories: A Good Man Is Hard To Find, Good Country People, The River and A Stroke Of Good Fortune notably, but not to all. A mandatory reading for darker genres writers and for literary folks of crime and horror. But not the hidden treasure I thought it would be.

5 comments:

  1. I started this story collection almost two months ago and can't seem to finish it. I'm not a Faulkner fan nor do I particularly enjoy short stories, but I can't seem to finish the other half of the book! So many people have highly recommended this O'Connor collection but I just felt "bleh" about it.

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  2. As wit any short story collection some are better than others. I would urge you to try and get hold of her complete collection though, some real stunners within her body of work.

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  3. I love "A Good Man..." a very eerie short. It was always a major player in my Comp II classes.

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  4. O'Conner is one who had a big impact on me, but I came to her short stories a little later. Her insight into the whole "desire for faith" thing shook me a little, and her compassion for human suffering is noble. If you can't dig her, try the novel Wiseblood first, then go back to the stories. Wiseblood pretty much sums up her philosophy as a writer.

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  5. @Heath: Yeah, her story "The River" reminded me of that. The struggle of a young boy to understand the divine. It was one of my favorites of the lot.

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