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A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories Paperback – August 23, 1977
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With an keen eye for the dark side of human nature, an amazing ear for dialogue, and a necessary sense of irony, Flannery O'Conner exposes the underside of life in the rural south of the United States. One of the powers in her writing lies in her ability to make the vulnerability of one into that of many; another is her mastery of shifting "control" from character to character, making the outcome uncertain. Sexual and racial attitudes, poverty and riches, adolescence, old age, and being thirty-four which "wasn't any age at all" are only some of the issues touched on in this collection. When Ruby has to walk up the "steeple steps...[that]...reared up" as she climbed to her fourth floor apartment, we feel her pain as she "gripped the banister rail fiercely and heaved herself up another step..." Flannery O'Conner, a 1972 National Book Award winner, reminds us that none of the roles in our lives is stagnant and that wearing blinders takes away more than just a view. Through her stories we see that what we blind ourselves to is bound to appear again and again. -- For great reviews of books for girls, check out Let's Hear It for the Girls: 375 Great Books for Readers 2-14. -- From 500 Great Books by Women; review by Holly Smith --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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.
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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.
"Besides the neutral expression that she wore when she was alone, Mrs. Freeman had two others, forward and reverse, that she used for all her human dealings. Her forward expression was steady and driving like the advance of a heavy truck. Her eyes never swerved to left or right but turned as the story turned as if they followed a yellow line down the center of it. She seldom used the others expression because it was not often necessary for her to retract a statement, but when she did, her face came to a complete stop, there was an almost imperceptible movement of her black eyes, during which they seemed to be receding, and then the observer would see that Mrs. Freeman, though she might stand there as real as several grain sacks thrown on top of each other, was no longer there in spirit."
Oh my! That woman is REAL. But however realistic O'Connor's grotesque characters might be, the situations in which they are placed in these stories are flamboyantly bizarre, at the edge of plausibility. That pattern is so marked that one has to ask why. It's probably pre-post-modernist of me to ask, but I will anyway: what on earth is the intention behind this so-well-written weirdness?
Humor? Caricature? One could imagine that the Coen Brothers turned to O'Connor for ideas their ferocious mockery of the South in their film "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?" The tenor is awfully close.
Or simple sensationalism for the sake of sales? Plenty of that around today, but O'Connor wrote these stories in the 1940s, and I can't help suspecting that she had more earnest intentions than selling to the New Yorker.
Self-loathing? An indictment of her own milieu? Some of the younger and less deformed of her characters do express an aspiration to get out of the muck of their lives. Did she? I almost never want to know details of the lives of authors; if 'it' isn't in the words of the writing, it isn't there at all. What I know about O'Connor is that she died young, and if her short life was enclosed in the world she describes, it's no wonder!
I also know, inadvertently from other reviews, that O'Connor was Catholic, that her writings are taken by critics to have meanings related to her Catholicism. Frankly, I have trouble with that thought. If we are supposed to perceive the innate depravity of humankind, and the lust for any kind of salvation, then O'Connor goes too far toward Gnosticism. To suggest that the depraved 'souls' of her stories were created in G_d's image is to deny the sublimity of the Divine. Perhaps the Catholicism of her 'South' had inherited the Cathar dualism, or else exchanged genetic particles with the most extreme Calvinism. Or perhaps O'Connor was on her way, in these early stories, toward 'painting herself into a corner' in her struggle with the ideas of sin and redemption. There is a priest, by the way, in the last story of the collection, but he is a simpering fool, the closest thing in the book to an outright caricature.
The first five stories of this collection could be brushed aside, as just writing for writing's sake, but the sixth story, "The Artificial Ni__er", is a mind-blower, a monument in the graveyard of literature, that extinct human pursuit. Plainly I've got to read the rest of O'Connor's work before the prions get the rest of my brain...