148 of 158 people found the following review helpful
"Grace changes us, and change is painful."
O'Connor, a delicate Southern Catholic who lived a third of her life ravaged by lupus, was certainly acquainted with pain. Her stories reveal this much. Many readers and reviewers may wonder if she doesn't take a bit of artistic license with her definition of "grace," though. Considering her religious ideologies (which aren't hard to figure out, even after reading just one of these deliciously dark little tales), her unsubtle brutality isn't so unexpected. Look God directly in the face, the Bible says, and it completely and utterly destroys you.
It's safe to say that even if her characters don't always get an unobstructed view of their Creator, they all at least catch a glimpse. O'Connor is not shy about her beliefs, and in fact, her unswerving social sensibilities are part of what make her writing so delectable. Read closely, because every single detail is important and potent. And just like the Bible she adheres to so fervently, the endings to her stories are forecasted unapologetically by every word that comes before them.
This in no way ruins the power of those conclusions. Read a hundred interviews with a hundred writers, and I guarantee you that many of them will mention, as inspiration, "A Good Man Is Hard To Find." Sit down for twenty minutes with the hilarious and heart-breaking "River," and ask yourself if your foreknowledge didn't rob the final lines of their shuddering ferocity. Visit "A Displaced Person," meet "Enoch and the Gorilla," stay for awhile with "Greenleaf," and take a good long look at "A View of the Woods." You may find yourself wondering if there is any compassion and hope in O'Connor's world, but you'll never doubt that it is full of meaning, full of necessity, and full of heavenly fire.
There's a legitimate beef some may have with this collection. "O'Connor has written an amazing story," one of my friends once said. "I just don't know why she chose to write it thirty-one times." It's fair to say that O'Connor doesn't stray much from her predictably gruesome formula. But while her themes never change much (purification through fire, self-knowledge gained via self-destruction, and the immolations brought on by racism and doubt), her telling of them is so fine and so stark, the details themselves are what really showcase her writing's true brilliance and beauty.
This collection is arranged in chronological order, and it is part of the treat to see her ideas age as she does. Her final story, the aptly titled "Judgement Day" is a revision of her first story, "The Geranium." The differences between the two show most openly where O'Connor hides the hope and faith and love that many feel is missing from all the works between. O'Connor, like the God in which she believed, seems too ready to expose her characters to an amazing amount of pain and degredation. But if you look close enough, if you read every sentence carefully, you'll see that she makes necessary every sacrifice, every drop of blood, every harsh, scalding ray of sun. In an era now where authors tend to shock for shock's sake, O'Connor stands out as a timeless reminder that as senseless and vicious as life's stories may sometimes seem, there is still the chance that behind it all lies a deeper, knowable truth. That truth may come at some great costs, but, O'Connor seems to say, it is better to buy with your flesh something lasting and real, than to sell your soul for even a whole world of lies.
152 of 168 people found the following review helpful
I studied Flannery O'Connor in college and wrote a thesis on her works. Her stories were mesmerizing and riveting, and I have re-read them many times since. She was firmly rooted in the Southern grotesque, but she was able to transcend the stark terrain of the South and present remarkable studies of human foibles and the self searching for meaning and redemption.
O'Connor had the uncanny gift to describe people, surroundings and life with astonishingly spare prose. Her genius was that she could reveal the mystery and manners in us all. Of particular note are "Revelation" and "A Good Man is Hard to Find." You must read this collection, and I promise that her stories will speak to you for years to come.
101 of 115 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2002
I read this collection during college, in my senior literature seminar. I find O'Connor's stories to be the best, most brutally honest, thought-provoking and attitude-altering work out there. One piece deserving of mention are the classic "A Good Man is Hard to Find", the last line of which reasonates long after the reader closes the book. O'Connor craftily delivers messages about racism, elitism and other problems of the deep South in her stories, and beautifully maintains the Southern Gothic texture in each one. I can't recommend this book any more enthusiastically!
39 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2002
I was lucky enough during one semester in college to be forced to read several works by Flannery O'Connor. After hearing her stories, I fell in love with her, so I read this collection. This is probably the most amazing collection of short stories I have ever read. O'Connor presents Southern people at their best and worst. Adding a hint of religion, O'Connor conveys the idea of salvation and how life affects those who do and do not have this. My favorite stories include: "A Good Man Is Hard To Find," a shocking story about a criminal and an unusual family; "Revelation," a humorous work about people who view themselves as superior to others; "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," another hilarious and shocking piece describing how a woman decides to seduce a Christian man; and "Good Country People," a story describing how people fulfill their wants and desires at others cost. These stories are easy to read and fairly short! Highly recommended.
74 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on January 5, 1999
The first half of the 20th century. Ask yourself about the short stories. Everybody wrote them. Ask yourself abut the best: Eudora Welty, Fredric Brown, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Carson McCullers, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway. And there is one name that is simply the best, against any competitors, against any subject matter, against any sex: Flannery O'Connor. I only hope that she knows that 35 years after her death her "The Complete Stories" is still is a best selling compilation and one of the most recommended books I have ever seen. They try to tie her to the south. They try to label her a woman's writer. They haven't read her. Flannery O'Connor is the best 20th century short story writer. Period. AND, she also wins the prize for best final lines in her stories. Didn't know there was a prize for best final lines? I have invented it.
"Then she recognized the feeling again, a little roll. It was if it were not her stomach. It was if it were out nowhere in nothing, out nowhere, resting and waiting, with plenty of time."
"The sherrif's brain worked instantly like a calculating machine. As he scrutinized the scene, further insights were flashed to him. He was accustomed to enter upon scenes that were not as bad as he had hoped to find them, but this one met his expectations."
"Mr. Paradise's head appeared from time to time on the surface of the water. Finally, far downstream, the old man rose like some ancient water monster and stood empty-handed, staring with his dull eyes as far down the river as he could see."
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
on August 1, 1998
I cannot praise Flannery O'Connor enough. Though I have read a couple of her novels, I find her most effective in her short stories. This collection of short stories by Flannery O'Connor is one of my favorite books. She is unquestionably one of the best American authors of the twentieth century.
Each story gives insight to another of humanity's secrets. O'Connor investigates the very nature of humans and paints a disturbing picture. Her stories look at what makes us tick, what haunts us, and how we give meaning to our lives. Each account gives another glimpse into O'Connor's mind. Some stories, particularly "A Good Man is Hard to Find" make me shiver to even think about.
A highly recommended book that contains memorable stories and a beautiful writing style.
19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
on September 27, 2007
Thirty-one stories and 550 pages rest within this collection. Each story has its own merit, but I would like to take a moment to describe the ones that have best remained powerfully glued to my mind.
Revelation - This tale deals with a smug, pious church-goer (of which many of O'Connor's find similarity). The woman is happy she is not black or white-trash, and thinks herself a candidate for the front of heaven's lines. Of course, O'Connor has a tasty ending for her in the story's last pages.
The Lame Shall Enter First - A story about loving when it's too late. The last words of this tale still haunt me.
The River - A young boy wishes to find the kingdom of God but finds tragedy instead. I think O'Connor was attacking how some things are best not taught to children because they will not be able to comprehend them.
The Peeler - A pre-teen searches for cleansing after his first experience with lust.
Wildcat - an old black man's greatest fear ominously grows closer and closer to him with each new night.
The Enduring Chill - the Holy Ghost, depicted as a purifying terror, descends madly upon a reluctant intellect as he waits for death.
A View of the Woods - an old man is not above the things he hates as he turns on the one thing in the world he swears to protect: his ten year-old granddaughter.
A Late Encounter With the Enemy - a Civil War veteran finds that his moment in the sun is actual nothing more than his first day among the devils.
Good Country People - considered a classic by most, this tale deals with the ironies of a devious mind and those who fail to recognize it.
The Comforts of Home - a female nymphomaniac is taken off the street by a kind-hearted old woman. The old woman's son, however, refuses to accept the new house guest and sets a plan in motion that will destroy everything he holds dear.
O'Connor's stories are often filled with fringe-lunatics in the raw pursuit of grace as they battle pious church-mice, the racism of the day, and their own feeble place in the world. She exposes the harsh prejudice of those who claim an outward perfection, and often times the righteous and smug are given over to the very things they claim to be above. O'Connor takes on a literary trip that features corruptive minds, freakish hermaphrodites, hopeless nymphomaniacs lurching for any form of grace, and wild-eyed country folk who doubt both faith as well as admire it from afar.
She spares us nothing and when it's all said and done, what we have witnessed are the rawest forms of grace being sprinkled on those who most would never imagine worthy, while those who seem to have it all together are thrust into their own personal hells. If you are interested in grace for the rugged, vexed, slob and slut, her tales are for you. Enter with an open mind and you will unearth something more intriguing than you can imagine.
18 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2005
Do yourself a favor, treat yourself. If you've never read The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor, read it now. If you have, read it again this summer. Winner of the 1971 National Book Award, these are mighty strange stories of broken people in a fallen world: hermaphrodites who proclaim themselves visible, inscrutable sign of God; physically maimed men and women, tormented by spirits and passions they can't fathom; landowners, poor whites and blacks colluding in nameless, unspeakable guilt.
O'Connor's work, at its best, made manifest and palpable abstractions such as sin and redemption. Her work shouts of a world of spirit that is larger than all our categories and schema, encountered in experience but never contained or mastered. Only through difficult and painful revelation can the Kingdom be realized. Writing about the South in the middle of the twentieth century, her work is suffused with the divisions and nuances of race and class. She was a master of the short story form, as well. You get the solid setup, the telling character detail, the punch at the end of the story. Especially good are "Parker's Back," "The Displaced Person," "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," "A Temple of the Holy Ghost," "Good Country People," "The Comforts of Home," "The Lame Shall Enter First," and the classic "A Good Man is Hard to Find." This is a wonderful anthology of work from a powerful writer. Again, do yourself a favor.
25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on November 4, 1998
Many white writers have tried (and continue) to capture the black experience, the oppression of the blacks in the South, but none come close to Flannery O'Connor. I did not have any idea about Flannery O'Connor's race when I started reading her some years ago and after a few books, I still did not know. Her writing is not subjected to any race or country of origin. It is on such a subconscious human level - just change the names and physical descriptions of the characters and you have a story that will take you inside the minds and bodies of the oppressed and the elite from every/any culture and before you know it, you will see yourself in a different light. Shakti Gawain and Deepak Chopra try to teach lessons that Flannery O'Connor presents to us - take from her books what you can, read them again and take more. Maupassant's short stories were unsurpassable, atleast I never thought anyone could come close to making strong statements in such few words, but I had yet to introduce myself to Flannery O'Connor. If you haven't read 'Everything that rises must converge' and 'A good man is hard to find' you are missing out on self growth and the tie that binds you to other humans.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2004
A dear friend suggested a few Flan stories to me, and I guess I got hooked. With this volume consumed, I can now say I have read all of the published short stories of this fantastic writer.
O' Connor's work is fantastic in the way my dictionary describes the word. "Conceived by unrestrained fancy." These stories are nearly always shocking, actually very shocking. They are powerful character driven things, and rather than describe them as "horror" stories as I see some reviewers do, I would moreso call them "grotesques."
They involve characters that are not so much "horrible" or "horrorful" as much as they are simply ludicrous, or incongruously composed or disposed. Caught up in all manner of inner bigotries, hypocrisy, fanaticism of one sort or another (most often religious). O'Connor characters often turn out to be homicidal, suicidal, brutal, obsessed, the opposite of what they appear to be, and always, if nothing else... shocking!
I am no connoisseur of the short story genre but all I know is that these stories without fail, intrigued me. Opened a door to further contemplation, and went a bit beyond what they said.
For sheer brilliance of sentence structure, visualization, suspense, I think it would be fair to say that there are few writers that have ever written as clearly as Flannery O' Connor.
When I am reading literature, characters better dang well talk good, and talk like people, not like characters. The dialogue in this collection is one of its strongest points. Impeccable down-south vernacular.
As for verisimilitude, well that is another mentionable thing here. If they are anything, these stories are bizarre, and yet they retain that quality of appearing to be true. Appearing to be possible. But the last thing that they are (hear me now, if hearing nothing else), these are NOT happily-ever-after stories.
They are most often direct flights into the realm of the reprehensible and least optimistic aspects (propensities) of human nature.
For those who care, my own favorite story was probably The Lame Shall Enter First.