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Everything That Rises Must Converge: Stories (FSG Classics) Paperback – January 1, 1965
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“The current volume of posthumous stories is the work of a master, a writer's writer-- but a reader's too-- an incomparable craftsman who wrote, let it be said, some of the finest stories in our language.” ―Newsweek
“All in all they comprise the best collection of shorter fiction to have been published in America during the past twenty years.” ―Theodore Solotaroff, Book Week
“When I read Flannery O'Connor, I do not think of Hemingway, or Katherine Anne Porter, or Sartre, but rather of someone like Sophocles. What more can you say for a writer? I write her name with honor, for all the truth and all the craft with which she shows man's fall and his dishonor.” ―Thomas Merton
About the Author
Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia, in 1925. When she died at the age of thirty-nine, America lost one of its most gifted writers at the height of her powers. O'Connor wrote two novels, Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960), and two story collections, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (1964). Her Complete Stories, published posthumously in 1972, won the National Book Award that year, and in a 2009 online poll it was voted as the best book to have won the award in the contest's 60-year history. Her essays were published in Mystery and Manners (1969) and her letters in The Habit of Being (1979). In 1988 the Library of America published her Collected Works; she was the first postwar writer to be so honored. O'Connor was educated at the Georgia State College for Women, studied writing at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and wrote much of Wise Blood at the Yaddo artists' colony in upstate New York. She lived most of her adult life on her family's ancestral farm, Andalusia, outside Milledgeville, Georgia.
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Top Customer Reviews
Still, her stories should be read -- for their power and for the distinctiveness of her voice. I came to O'Connor much too late in my reading career. I was staggered by her first collection of short stores, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find", when I read it about four years ago. EVERYTHING THAT RISES MUST CONVERGE is almost as good. It contains one story ("The Lame Shall Enter First") that strikes me as rough, much like a first draft (O'Connor wrote most of the stories in the book in her last years, when suffering from the Lupus that would kill her). But five of the stories are top shelf, as fine in my opinion as the best of Alice Munro, or James Joyce, or John Updike.
The stories are set primarily in rural and small-town Georgia of the late 1950's and early 1960's. Most end with a twist and in apocalyptic fashion. Three themes dominate. One is the theological. The first three stories seem Old Testament in nature, while the latter six partake of the New Testament, especially the Holy Ghost. (I can see preachers using many of these stories as texts for what could be enthralling sermons.) Another theme has to do with what I will call domestic relations, particularly those between an older parent and an adult child. For the last twelve years of her life, O'Connor lived with her widowed mother, who supposedly provided O'Connor a supportive and tranquil environment as she struggled with Lupus. However, the strained and bitterly antagonistic parent-child relationships of many of these stories make me wonder whether O'Connor's last years with her mother were truly all that peaceful for her. The third theme has to do with the relationship between blacks and whites in what was then still very much Jim Crow Georgia. These stories are not P.C. (indeed, O'Connor would have mocked, trenchantly, the very notion of P.C.), and if you are offended by the "n-word" regardless of context (much like Mark Twain and "Huckleberry Finn") you will be offended repeatedly. But as several of the stories indicate, and as one character says when he proposes to drink from the same glass as one of his mother's Negro workers, "the world is changing."
The book's title, by the way, is also the title of the first, and probably best, story. Towards the end of her life, O'Connor read a lot by the French philosopher and Jesuit priest Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. In a piece called the "Omega Point", Teilhard wrote: "Remain true to yourself, but move ever upward toward greater consciousness and greater love! At the summit you will find yourselves united with all those who, from every direction, have made the same ascent. For everything that rises must converge."
Worth the read, but only if you're caught on a train with nothing else to read ;)
Do you want to know something, though? The book has a pretty good reason to shout. Although it's been months since I finally read the collection, it hasn't quieted down. Moreover, I've grown appreciative of its company.
_Everything that Rises..._ was released after O'Connor's death. The hallmark story leads a parade of nine others, a veritable Mardi-Gras of intellectuals, petulants, vindictives, intolerants, and misconceivers, all down a path toward redemption, and thankfully, all with their shirts _on_ (except for that one guy with the tattoo, of course).
"Theology--ugh. Stop saying 'redemption'," some readers holler. Fortunately, O'Connor's theology is well-masked. In fact, I had to read her biography, look at her essays, and dig with a backhoe before I located any theology. But I found it. It was hiding there in plain sight, and once I saw it, I wondered that I had ever missed it. I had trouble locating her theology because O'Connor has a habit of flaying peoples' minds to reveal their darker side. And when you flay somebody's mind, well, to quote Lady Macbeth, "Who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?" Wait now--before you shout "Violence--ugh. Stop saying 'flay'," I need to tell you about her work.
O'Connor uses no words of mystery. That woman was club-thumping blunt. If you prefer stories that wash down pleasantly with watercress sandwiches and Darjeeling, then you'd better find your authors elsewhere. However, if you need something that brands your soul, and if you want the burn to last a long, long time, then read this collection.
O'Connor was passionate about two things in her life (well, three things actually, if you count large domesticated birds, but that's for another review): she loved her religion, and she loved the South. Her writing feels the effects of both. If the South provides the actual meat and potatoes of the story, then her Catholicism provides the salt, without which her stories truly might have been intolerable.
The South is not just a home for O'Connor. The south looms over her writing like a half-ton gorilla. But in a good way. Her region gives her work location, yes, but more importantly a sense of history, and of direction. She was fiercely unrepentant of her Southern heritage, at least in terms of its importance to her craft. Her collection of essays asserts that her Southern characters were grotesque because of their bad manners, yet to her, "bad manners are preferable to no manners at all."
Her work is equally tempered by her fierce Catholicism. In this age, where the church itself is virtually anathema, readers may be surprised that O'Connor attended Mass nearly every day of her life.
O'Connor is unrelenting in her work to provide situations of redemption and grace to broken people, and just in case the reader accidentally misses her point, she makes her characters very ugly and her redemptions--well, the only word to describe an O'Connor redemption is violent. O'Connor's God is not a bubbly, bearded Gnome who dances with pixies at lake's edge. _Her_ God whomps you on the head with a plank, because _someone_ hasn't been paying attention in Life 101. Pow! Redemption!
This concept may be difficult for Protestant readers, because we are often quick to identify grace as a gift from the God of mercy. We do well, therefore, to read this Catholic, who reminds us that grace is doled out by a God who is just. I guess I am telling you this because O'Connor's characters don't fall off cliff because it was determined that way--her characters fall because they are so fallen in the first place. They fall because of the inevitability of the character's nature. Humankind, in O'Connor's opinion, needs the occasional swift kick-in-the-pants to return them to a state of grace before God. Besides, is it not infinitely more pleasurable to watch the Coyote fall into the canyon when his hand-made Acme hang-glider collapses, than to endure the Care-Bears' fight against the bad, evil meanies, with the power of good?
Robert Fitzgerald assembled a 25-page introduction to this work. Despite its length, Fitzgerald's piece is probably the best biographical account on the market, and is certainly a useful look at the work it precedes. However, Fitzgerald, like too many writers of forewords, assumes too much knowledge of O'Connor's works on the part of the reader. He supposes we have heard of Taulkingham, or of Ruby Turpin, or Hazel Motes. We will not encounter these people in the present work, and the extra names and plot summaries only get in the way. Fitzgerald is dead, though, so I guess he won't be changing the introduction any time soon.
O'Connor's works are audacious and skilled. Occasionally, the reader can spot the thorns popping through the seams of some of the stories, due to her untimely death. It is evident to the reader that a few of these stories needed more rubbing and polishing. Yet, one by one, O'Connor's characters, depraved sons-of-guns one and all, limp through their metronome world until they are ultimately redeemed by their God. The intensity of reader's experience does not slacken until the last page.
I think this explains why _Everything that Rises Must Converge_ still shouts at me. And it will shout at you, to remind you that you are fallen, too--"Hey stupid! Put down your pen and read me again!"