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A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories Paperback – August 23, 1977
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From the Back Cover
ONE OF THE GREATEST AMERICAN SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS
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 tradition that would become synonymous with her name, these stories show O'Connor's unique, grotesque view of life--infused with religious symbolism, haunted by apocalyptic possibility, sustained by the tragic comedy of human behavior, confronted by the necessity of salvation.
Through these classic stories--including "The Life You Save May Be Your Own," "Good Country People," "The Displaced Person," and seven other acclaimed tales--O'Connor earned a permanent place in the hearts of American readers.
"Much savagery, compassion, farce, art, and truth have gone into these stories. O'Connor's characters are wholeheartedly horrible, and almost better than life. I find it hard to think of a funnier or more frightening writer." --Robert Lowell
"In these stories the rural South is, for the first time, viewed by a writer whose orthodoxy matches her talent. The results are revolutionary." --The New York Times Book Review
Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) was born in Savannah, Georgia. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa, but lived most of her life in the South, where she became an anomaly among postâWorld War II authors--a Roman Catholic woman whose stated purpose was to reveal the mystery of God's grace in everyday life. Her work--novels, short stories, letters, and criticism--received a number of awards, including the National Book Award.
About the Author
Flannery O'Connor (1925-1964) was born in Savannah, Georgia. She earned her MFA at the University of Iowa, but lived most of her life in the South, where she became an anomaly among postâ€“World War II authors--a Roman Catholic woman whose stated purpose was to reveal the mystery of God's grace in everyday life. Her work--novels, short stories, letters, and criticism--received a number of awards, including the National Book Award.
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The collection gets its name from the first short story, and it is easy to see why it was chosen to represent (in name) this body of work. A Good Man is Hard to Find is easily one of the collection’s strongest works, following a grandmother and her family’s run-in with an escaped convict self-dubbed The Misfit. The brutality of the story’s gradual conclusion is emotionally jarring (despite its understated delivery) and threatens to stay with the reader permanently. Other stories in the collection that match the intensity and/or excellence of this piece include The River, about a neglected child’s encounter with religion, as well as The Life You Save May Be Your Own and Good Country People, both of which feature missing limbs, traveling con artists, the potential of redemption. Good Country People also includes the fall of a self-proclaimed intellectual, another of O’Conner’s favorite targets.
The weakest work of the collection is easily A Temple of the Holy Ghost, which – much like the title itself – abandons O’Conner’s normal allegorical subtext early on and instead launches into bald-faced proselytizing, eschewing the more calculated symbolism and metaphor for which O’Conner is well more known. The Artificial *title omitted because of Amazon’s automatic filters* is almost guilty of the same, as the narrator goes to great lengths to explain the spiritual transformation of the characters at the end, but overall it isn’t enough to ruin the story of a Grandfather and Grandson’s eventful trip into “the city.”
A stroke of Good Fortune, A Circle in the Fire, and A Late Encounter with the Enemy, while not at the best of the bunch, are still solid entries that easily display O’Conner’s literary talents, and support her ongoing theme of grotesque characters, while exploring subject matter slightly removed from spiritual grace, including the arrogance of the individual’s perceived control over body (A Stroke of Good Fortune), personal history (A Late Encounter with the Enemy),, nature, and even other people (A Circle in the Fire).
Personally, the piece in O’Conner’s collection that I struggled the most with is The Displaced Person. It is an impressive short story in three parts that tackles a multitude of subjects, among them racism, xenophobia, morality, patriotism, control, pride, sloth, and yes, redemption. The story follows a widowed farm owner who takes in an immigrant family from Poland as a working tenant at the bequest of a local priest. All of O’Connor’s trademark elements are present, with all of the major characters driven by character flaws that prevent them from seeing the hypocrisy or illogic in their decision making and world view. However, O’Conner’s handling of the immigrant farm hand, Mr. Guizac, is enough of a departure from O’Conner’s norm to - at the very least – raise some questions. Throughout the other works in this collection, there are rarely any true “innocents” on hand, and even those few characters that could be perceived as innocent, such as young Harry Ashfield in The River, still display character flaws as well as a need or desire for redemption. Mr. Gulzac, however, is never demonstrated to have any outward corruption or deficiencies. Any “flaws” ascribed to Mr. Gulzac are done so through the biased filters of the other characters, and are obviously done so erroneously out of xenophobia, jealousy, fear, or false morality. This is at least partly due to the fact that, unlike the vast majority of major characters in O’Conner’s stories, the narrator never describes any of Mr. Gulzac’s actions from his point of view. Practically all other characters are given at least a brief POV by the narrator, or at the very least have some personal backstory presented as context, but Mr. Gulzac’s own perspective is never truly presented by the narrator. Whenever we see Mr. Gulzac, it is through the eyes of another character, or through the straight-forward impersonal descriptions of the narrator. It is almost as if O’Connor (intentionally or otherwise) makes the geographically displaced Mr. Gulzac a displaced entity in the story, somehow not even belonging in the narrative itself. This emotional distance from the reader mirrors the distance that separates him from other characters, but without the warped prism of bias and prejudice that O’Conner’s other characters exhibit, this distance lends Mr. Gulzac a perception of innocence by omission; other characters reveal their flawed logic and morality through the narrator, but all we are shown of Mr. Gulzac is the hard work and competency that draws the ire and envy of others.
This distance from Mr. Gulzac in the story highlights my other problem with The Displaced Person, the story’s ending. O’Conner’s other stories tend to end after the climactic or transformative action occurs, with the redemption or ultimate results left open and undetermined (The River might be the only other exception to this, depending on your own interpretation). The Displaced Person, however, takes the reader beyond the tragic climax of the ending and offers an uncharacteristic denouement that delivers a level of closure. It almost feels as if O’Connor feels compelled to offer up some semblance of justice – a rarity in the O’Connor universe – for the treatment of that rarest of all O’Connor character, the innocent.
Of course, these are not major faults in The Displaced Man as they are perceived variations of the collected works, and with the possible exception of A Temple of the Holy Ghost, every story in this collection is powerful enough to stand on its own. If you are unfamiliar with the Southern Gothic genre, this collection of stories is an excellent place to start.
What the majority of these stories have in common are the classic Southern Gothic themes: grotesque characters, religious themes, some ironic, unusual event. O'Connor is just a master at tying these themes together into a great story.
I highly recommend this book.
Some of what you read will have you laughing out loud... and hard! But every story will have a dark, if not disturbing, twist. The grandmother in "A Good Man is Hard to Find" reminded me quite a bit of my own grandmother in that she was prim, proper, and yet manipulative as hell... in a very funny way. And the darker characters were, at first, like any ol' redneck you might run into in the old, deep south. But then the darkness sets in... and man, it leaves you shocked and silent.
Don't read unless you want to be slightly depressed. Good cerebral read that I do occasionally enjoy.