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A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories

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Book Overview

This description may be from another edition of this product. In 1955, with this short story collection, Flannery O'Connor firmly laid claim to her place as one of the most original and provocative writers of her generation. Steeped in a Southern Gothic...

Customer Reviews

6 ratings

Good Writing About Bad People

I know O'Connor as a pivotal figure in Southern writing but had little experience with her stories. However, there are NO likeable characters in these stories and it made me want to punch most of them in the face. A real downer.

Very Hard to Find

Flannery O'Connor is the epitome of Christian writing; taking everything you think should distiguish her as such and turning it on its head. She writes with purpose and your job is to decipher the theology she has packed into her incredible stories. Summarizing her own work she wrote, "I once wrote a story called Good Country People. in which a lady Ph.D. has her wooden leg stolen by a Bible salesman whom she has tried to seduce. Now, I'll admit that, paraphrased in this way, the situation is simply a low joke. but without ceasing to appeal to him and without making any statement of high intention, this story does manage to operate at another level of experience, by letting the wooden leg accumaulate meaning." O'Connor's stories sound at times like a bad joke and yet they pack her theology, her world view- her Christian view, into every character and story so that her stories continue to accumulate meaning upon the second and third reading.

Classic American Fiction Straight from the Bible Belt

The ten short stories in this collection are definitely masterpieces. Neither too long or too short, the stories suggest whole worlds, entire lives (and deaths) with just the right number of verbal brushstrokes. Never preachy or self-righteous, they are yet infused with a deep, complex spirituality that seems to consist of an eccentric and compelling hybrid of Roman Catholicism's quiet mysticism and Southern Protestantism's revivalism and rigor. That said, this is not "chicken soup for the soul"...pretty much every story has a dark edge, and in most of them the author gets you with this impending sense of dread that things are going to go to heck in a hand basket, the only question is how (this makes the book awfully hard to put down, by the way). And she has an incredible talent of capturing the rhythms and characteristic expressions of Southern English without too much Mark Twain twang. In short, this is hands down a classic of American literature.

Ten weird, surprising, tense, comical, and often unforgettable stories

A family on vacation encounters a cold-blooded gang, a gullible and naive housewife is struck by a mysterious (but hilariously common) "illness," a 104-year-old Civil War veteran is a featured guest at his 62-year-old daughter's high school graduation--each of O'Connor's stories portray characters in improbable, bizarre, and ultimately harrowing situations. These tales are weird, surprising, tense, comical, and often unforgettable--but what exactly do they all mean? O'Connor was often frustrated by the sense that readers and reviewers misunderstood both the intents and the themes of her stories. In her first letter to a fan from Atlanta who became a frequent correspondent, she complained that "she was mighty tired of reading reviews that call 'A Good Man' brutal and sarcastic" and that "when I see these stories described as horror stories I am always amused because the reviewer has hold of the wrong horror." I think she sells herself short with this assessment, however. Her stories are brutal, they certainly can be sarcastic--and the fact that readers confuse the horror is confirmation of the ambiguous and harrowing (and, yes, Gothic) underworld her characters inhabit. The reason her stories are classics of the form--and the ten stories in this collection are among the best I've ever read--is not only because they are creepy and grotesque, or because she is the master of the ominous set-up and the unexpected ending, but also because after you've found out what happened you'll probably lie awake wondering why it happened. "Christian realism" was how O'Connor described her spiritual stance; "I write the way I do because (not though) I am a Catholic. . . . I am a Catholic peculiarly possessed of the modern consciousness." Decades of critics have argued over the theological underpinnings of her fiction, but an assessment by a fellow author named George Clay helped me make sense of her themes--and the author herself approvingly summarized his remarks in her own correspondence: "[Clay's] interesting comment was that the best of my work sounded like the Old Testament would sound if it were being written today--in as much (partly) as the character's relation is directly with God rather than with other people's." It's not hard to find the ghosts of Job, Ruth, Samson, Esther, Isaac, Daniel, and others in all of her stories. Whether these echoes make for good theology will depend on the reader's own spiritual inclinations--but they certainly make good reading. My favorite piece in this collection is "Good Country People," probably O'Connor's most famous (excepting the title story). Describing a lonely woman with an artificial leg who is seduced by a traveling Bible salesman, the story veers into an inexplicable climax that is both devastating and melancholy. And those two words pretty much sum up any of the stories you'll find here.

Oddball prophets caught in the web they wove themselves.

They are misfits, wanderers, and souls searching for faith and absolution. Many of them are, to one extent or another, hypocrites; others are almost unbelievably naive. All of them are Southerners - and yet, even the most outlandish among Flannery O'Connor's protagonists come across as entirely believable, complex characters whom, regardless of location, you might expect to come across in your own travels, too; and there is no telling how such an encounter would turn out. Of course, you would hope it does not prove quite as disastrous as the title story's chance meeting of a family taking a wrong turn (on the road as much as figuratively) and the self-proclaimed Misfit haunting that particular area of Georgia; which culminates in a bizarre conversation, the failure of communication underneath which only adds to the reader's growing feeling of helplessness in view of impending doom. And such a sense of irreversible destiny pervades many a story in this collection; yet, while as in O'Connor's writing in general, her and her protagonists' Catholic faith plays a dominant role in the course of the events, that course is not so much brought about by the hand of God as by the characters' own acts, decisions, judgments and prejudices. Freakish as they are, O'Connor's (anti-)heroes are meant to be prophets, messengers of a long forgotten responsibility, as she explained in her 1963 essay "The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South:" their prophecy is "a matter of seeing near things with their extensions of meaning and thus of seeing far things close up." Often, she uses names, titles and items of every day life and imbues them with a new meaning in the context of her stories; this collection's title story, for example, is named for a blues song popularized by Bessie Smith in the late 1920s, and a cautionary road sign commonly seen in the 1950s ("The Life You Save May Be Your Own") becomes the title and motto of a story about a wanderer's encounter with a mother and her handicapped daughter who take him in, only to use that purported charity to their own advantage - at the end of which, predictably, nobody is the better off. Indeed, the endings of O'Connor's stories are as far from your standard happy ending as you can imagine; and while you cannot help but develop, early on, a premonition of doom, most of the time the precise nature of that doom is anything but predictable. "A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories" was Flannery O'Connor's first published collection of short stories; yet, by the time these stories appeared (nine of the ten were published in various magazines between 1953 and 1955 before their inclusion in this 1955 collection) she was already an accomplished writer, with not only a novel under her belt ("Wise Blood," 1952) but also, and significantly, a master's thesis likewise consisting of a collection of short stories, entitled "The Geranium and Other Stories" (1947; first published as a collection in 1971's National Boo

An American Master

I first discovered O'Conner's short fiction in college. Her vivid prose paints in harsh, metallic hues. O'Conner stories, and her characters, will not leave you. If you read for the joy of well crafted, perfectly chosen words and tight, surprising narrative, she will thrill you beyond measure. Be forwarned, however, that she writes with an axe to grind. A Catholic mystic, her tales are about salvation; she renounces what we would now call secular humanism. Her religious beliefs are not blatant in her work, but it will begin to beat on you if you read enough. Despite my personal distaste for her particular orthodoxy, I will forever be in love with her writing. Writers like O'Conner are all too rare, whatever their personal beliefs.
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