REVIEW: The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor

Hardcover, 572 pages 
Published January 1st 1984 by Douglas & McIntyre / Fsg Adult (first published 1971)  
ISBN: 0374127522 (ISBN13: 9780374127527) 
original title: The Complete Stories 
literary awards: National Book Award for Fiction (1972) 
5 stars Goodreads Synopsis: 
The publication of this extraordinary volume firmly established Flannery O’Connor’s monumental contribution to American fiction. There are thirty-one stories here in all, including twelve that do not appear in the only two story collections O’Connor put together in her short lifetime–Everything That Rises Must Converge and A Good Man Is Hard to Find. O’Connor published her first story, “The Geranium,” in 1946, while she was working on her master’s degree at the University of Iowa. Arranged chronologically, this collection shows that her last story, “Judgement Day”–sent to her publisher shortly before her death—is a brilliantly rewritten and transfigured version of “The Geranium.” Taken together, these stories reveal a lively, penetrating talent that has given us some of the most powerful and disturbing fiction of the twentieth century. Also included is an introduction by O’Connor’s longtime editor and friend, Robert Giroux.

My Thoughts:
I’ve been skipping around with the stories in this book, primarily because I’m reading them for book group discussions, and I think I will try and review each story as I read it rather than analyze the book as a whole (which is next to impossible).

Let me first start with saying that Flannery O’Connor is a genius of a writer, with an immeasurable talent for biting social commentary. It is not out of place to compare her in spirit to Mark Twain, and while she is a different style of writer than Twain, they share a common bond of identifying the social ills of their generation(s) and skewering them repeatedly in their writing. O’Connor is a standout in the genre of Southern Gothic, and she used both hyperbole and the grotesque to sharply and critically harpoon accepted social mores, customs and beliefs – both religious and political – with which she vehemently disagreed. She was also a Christian, and had little patience with the legalistic and judgmental “Christians” the she often encountered. To say that she saw them as disingenuous is an understatement, as her writing gives evidence to the fact that she could not suffer the shallowness of their faith or their total misunderstanding of grace and salvation.

O’Connor’s stories, as they shed light on the cultural woes of the American South, make us uncomfortable, and sometimes offend us. But her purpose in going there is to make us think critically about ourselves as she exposes hypocritical behavior in others. These are not for the faint of heart, and they are not frothy or fun. They are, however, meaty and complex, upsetting and difficult, and ultimately satisfying in mental, spiritual and emotional ways.

So, without further ado…my impressions of the stories as I read them.

The Geranium – thoughts forthcoming

The Barber – Skewering the ridiculousness of racial politics with a sharp understanding that political issues should have no color. It’s interesting, though, how O’Connor uses an inarticulate man to make this point, and thus sheds light on the weaknesses and foibles of both sides of the political debate.

Wildcat
The Crop
The Turkey
The Train
The Peeler
The Heart of the Park
A Stroke of Good Fortune
Enoch and the Gorilla

A Good Man is Hard to Find – A very pointed statement about what is good and what is evil, and how perceptions can be very distorted. The Grandmother is “supposed” to be good because she is pious, but she is judgmental and critical, and her faith is shallow. The Misfit – a murderer – is an evil man, but he understands who God is with great clarity, and though he has no faith at all, he is the vehicle through with the Grandmother is exposed, and through which O’Connor causes us as readers to inspect our own beliefs.

A Late Encounter with the Enemy
The Life You Save May Be Your Own
The River
A Circle in the Fire
The Displaced Person
A Temple of the Holy Ghost
The Artificial Nigger

Good Country People – rereading

You Can’t Be Any Poorer than Dead
Greenleaf
A View of the Woods
The Enduring Chill
The Comforts of Home

Everything That Rises Must Converge – rereading

The Partridge Festival
The Lame Shall Enter First
Why Do the Heathen Rage?

Revelation – (on deck) – thoughts next week

Parker’s Back – Here is another sharply critical commentary on Christianity, particularly what constitutes faith and what does not. Parker is not a Christian – not saved, but he marries Sarah Ruth, who is. In the end, though, it is he whose faith is found, and hers that is found wanting.

Judgement Day– thoughts forthcoming

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