Flannery, my fire

I have been working on Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories for several months now (maybe even for a whole year). I finished them this week, and I am blown away. Did Flannery O’Connor define the Southern Gothic genre? Was she the first? Because she is a master.

‘She would of been a good woman,’ The Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.’

O’Connor was born in my home state of Georgia, and I have savored her short stories these past months, consuming them in small doses for a couple of reasons:

flannery complete stories1) The stories are — heavy is not the right word. Potent is a better description. They take chewing, swallowing, and digesting. And then palate cleansers in between.

2) I’m not the type to be able to read a 500 page book of short stories cover to cover. I can read a novel that way, but not short stories. I like them independent of each other.

I often struggle when a book takes me this long to read: if I loved it, I feel I should have devoured it. But this book of short stories made me feel differently about that. Flannery O’Connor’s writing is a marvel. Every element of her stories contributes to the overall feel of them – the titles, the dialogue, the pacing, the metaphors – and I am thrilled to just read the titles of the stories, much less the stories themselves:

“Everything That Rises Must Converge”
“The Lame Shall Enter First”
“Why Do the Heathen Rage?”
“You Can’t Be Any Poorer Than Dead”

As those titles suggest, the moods are dark, hence the Southern Gothic descriptor of Flannery O’Connor’s work. Her characters are odd and creepy, “possessed” by Satan, the Holy Spirit, or atheism.

She could never be a saint, but she thought she could be a martyr if they killed her quick.

The people who populate her stories are sometimes intelligent, sometimes ignorant, almost always self-righteous and backwards, and they are utterly believable to me as a person who grew up in the state of Georgia.

The sense of place that O’Connor invokes, through her characters, mastery of Southern dialects, and black humor, has lit a fire under me to finish reading Georgia — and come back to my Andrea Reads America reading project — after a long hiatus.