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The Devil's In The Details
on May 21, 2008
"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.