Thursday, April 9, 2015

Discovering Flannery O'Connor

I don't know how she alluded me for so long, but prior to this year, I had never read anything by Flannery O'Connor, apart from maybe one story included in an anthology that I read for a class once. I had actually never been that interested in her, but this book, loosely based on her correspondence with Robert Lowell, piqued my interest. I finally worked my way through her Complete Stories over the past couple of months, then followed that up with her first novel, Wise BloodNow I have a new addition to my list of all time favorite authors.

One of the main things that struck me about O'Connor's stories was their haunting quality, for lack of a better description. Each one offered up new images that stuck with me long after I had finished reading it. This is partly due to the Southern Gothic style she writes in. Her darkly eccentric characters are very flawed, but they're fascinating and hard to look away from. Equally fascinating are the reactions that these characters draw from the reader. Many of them are sanctimonious, self-described "good country people" who sit in judgement of others of different classes or backgrounds. Their hypocritical prejudices are readily apparent to the reader (especially to the modern day reader). Yet even though we might not like or share their feelings, they do evoke a certain sympathy. O'Connor seems to have a knack for making us feel a connection to the most unexpected characters, ranging from the irritating to the unsavory to the downright evil. Her ability to make us question and reassess our feelings about her characters is possibly the most shocking aspect of stories that are already filled with shocking things.

(image via here)

O'Connor was well know for her devotion to her Catholic faith and her morally ambiguous characters serve to personify the religious themes that lurk behind much of her writing. At first glance, the combination of religious themes with weirdly dark characters doesn't exactly seem like it would make for page-turning reading, but in O'Connor's hands it does. I think this is because she grounds these elements with a very traditional style of fiction writing. Her short stories are very classically structured and filled with small but vivid details about mundane things that create a realistic portrait of characters who might otherwise seem unrealistic, resulting in a very believable fictional world that makes readers want to find out what will happen next while allowing her deeper themes to settle in more subtly once the plot has unfolded.

Have you read Flannery O'Connor? What do you think of her style?


  1. I have not read any O'Connor yet but your description and that gorgeous book cover make me want to!

    1. I really like that cover design, too, and it has a real-life connection to Flannery O'Connor because she apparently kept peacocks on her farm.

  2. I took a class in college that was focused entirely on Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner. At the time, I remember getting a bit eye-rolling about how many of O'Connor's stories ended in someone's terrible death. As we also read her essays on writing, I knew what her writing philosophy was and what she was about, but didn't altogether enjoy her. I'll probably try her again someday, and see if time and lack of homework assignments changes my opinion of her.



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