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VINE VOICEon 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.
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on May 14, 2007
A group of seniors from our church were planning a visit to the author's childhood home. I thought it would be a great idea to purchase this book as a little prize for the trip.

I read a couple of the short stories and found them to be a bit disturbing. Not at all what I expected. I do not need to have a "happy ever after" ending to stories but I read as an escape into anothter world. I did not enjoy visiting the world through Flannery O'Connor's eyes. Sorry.
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on July 16, 2013
Flannery O'Connor is another great writer who's been sidelined by the Western literary establishment for the dumbest of reasons. Unlike Céline, she hasn't been totally written out of the history books; because O'Connor had the good fortune to be born a woman, the Beigeists begrudgingly include a couple of her short stories in the college English curriculum. But I guarantee that most of the non-humanities-majoring public has never heard her name. All of the attention goes to O'Connor's pious fraud contemporary Harper Lee.

Part of it is because O'Connor died young, wasting away from lupus not long after her 39th birthday. O'Connor was also a devout Catholic, which has been a death sentence in English-speaking countries ever since the days of Henry VIII. But the main reason why Lee is worshipped and O'Connor is ignored is because once again, Lee was an entrepreneur masquerading as a social critic. Where O'Connor was a low-key figure who spent most of her life in the rural Georgia town where she grew up, Lee moved to New York and schmoozed her way into the nation's literary elite. Her To Kill a Mockingbird is popular and beloved because it caters to the Northern left-wing establishment's self-congratulatory view of not only the South, but themselves.

Mockingbird is garbage because it absolves Lee's social class--the wealthy, upper-class elite--of their responsibility in fostering the culture of racism in the Jim Crow South. In the novel, all of Maycomb's racism emanates from the Ewells, a despised and ostracized clan of white trash who live in a tin shack behind the town dump. Atticus Finch, the town lawyer (and by extension one of the most powerful and respected men in Maycomb) is not hostile to blacks; neither is the town sheriff or the other middle-class families in town. Even the working-class families such as the Cunninghams aren't overtly and violently racist. And yet despite being the only racists in town, the poor and hated Ewells somehow wield enough influence to get a black man convicted of a crime he clearly did not commit.

That's why Mockingbird is part of every high school curriculum in America and why Wise Blood is read only by bookworms like myself; it's libelous, self-serving and reaffirms the prejudices of its leftist readers. Black people are good, middle-class white people are good, poor white people are the root of all evil, and "the loss of innocence" is a real tragedy. That's a great metric for determining whether something's worth your time; if a book or movie is described as being about "the loss of innocence," run the hell away like you're being accosted by a lesion-covered junkie wielding a syringe.

Flannery O'Connor didn't have time to tickle the fancies of Northerners; she was too busy sketching the most realistic and gripping portrait of her native land since Mark Twain passed. Like Twain, O'Connor eschewed piety and sentimentality and depicted Southerners--white or black, rich or poor, man or woman--as they were: wretched, stupid, and corrupt. In her world, no one is innocent and everyone has the blood of classism and racism on their hands, including blacks themselves. She also didn't mince words, using the n-word frequently, which to liberals is like garlic to a vampire.

O'Connor's writing is also informed by her Catholic beliefs; many of her protagonists mirror the alienation she felt growing up in a strongly Protestant land. Informed by her Catholicism, O'Connor wrote her characters with the promise of redemption. Not unlike Andy Nowicki (another Southern Catholic), O'Connor knew that even the most degenerate man or woman carried with them the possibility of repentance. It's this cocktail of wisdom and observation that makes Flannery O'Connor not only a standout in American and Western literature, but a standout among women writers period.

The Complete Stories, as the title implies, is a volume containing every short story that O'Connor ever wrote, combining all the stories from her two previous collections, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge, along with several unpublished works. Her stories dovetail into every aspect of mid-20th century Southern life, from racism to classism to politics and love. No one is safe from her gaze, whether it's Old Dudley, the bitter old protagonist of "The Geranium," grumbling about his educated Northern black neighbor or Mrs. Willerton, the vapid housewife heroine of "The Crop," repeatedly trying to write a novel and failing miserably.

If you're looking for an introduction to Flannery O'Connor's work, The Complete Stories is by far your best bet. The biggest criticism I have of the collection is that several of the previously unpublished stories are redundant; O'Connor later reworked them into the plot of her first novel, Wise Blood. Nonetheless, The Complete Stories is a great read for those interested in truly talented writers.
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on May 14, 2014
She may or may not have been racist. But when I buy a book and upon reading halfway through the first story decide to google search whether the author was racist or not, that's a clear sign that the book is definitely, 100 per cent not for me. I wish I could sell it, it's nothing but a grim paperweight at this point.
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on August 26, 2013
This book used the N word too much. Paula Dean lost her livelihood by using it many years ago. It's not fair that someone else makes money off of it. I did not finish the book.
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Since I couldn't afford to go back to school to get my Masters, I thought it might be wise to obtain the required reading list and read myself through an alternate education. One on the list was Flannery O'Connor.
After reading through this book, I had an epiphany as to why so many writers win the big prizes such as the Pulitzer for fiction--you take average or stupider than average people, throw a common sense question or decision (to be made) in the mix, and watch the characters make the wrong decision and come out at the end either wiser, still stupid, or scratching their heads not knowing what the hell hit them.
In many of Flannery O'Connor's stories, this is essentially the plot. Many, if not all, of the characters are from the South, call African-American's the 'N' word without apology or hesitation, defines the era in which the story was written, and certainly perpetuates the myth folks from the South are illiterate, stupid, and don't have the common sense God gave a gnat.
A critic praised her (quote) 'stories that burn bright, and strike deep.' Flannery O'Connor wrote stories where stupid people make stupid mistakes and I was pretty disappointed in the whole set of stories overall. While her story-telling abilities are a little higher than average, I don't agree that her plots or story lines are as valuable as the kudos give her from other literary critiques.
If you are interesting in 'entertainment' type reading, this book is definitely not for you. If you are interested in The South as it used to be, from a native Southerner's point of view, and some interesting stories (overall) with deep literary and moral undertones that you have to re-read more than once to grasp, then this type of book will definitely appeal to your academic standards.
While her stories may have been 'important' half a century ago by reflecting the sad, uneducated, and prejudiced thinking of the people of the South, I believe that the world has made broad strides in their thinking, education, and literacy and has moved beyond her stories and her way of thinking.
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on October 12, 2012
So . . . how am I going to summarize over 30 short stories in one volume that run the gamut (what is a gamut anyway) of highly disturbing to deeply inspiring to truly annoying? Since Flannery O'Connor is in that "classic" category and I am not a literary critic, here is my advice to fellow "regular guy (or girl)" readers:

You can't make it through this volume without taking breaks away from this book. I plowed through half of it and that was too much. I had to go to Colorado and drive back home to New Jersey with my family to get it out of my head. So I would suggest alternating these stories with lighter fare, or trips to Colorado if you can.

The second half was easier for me . . . I think maybe because Flannery doesn't seem to kill off all of her characters in the second half . . .

The single story "Revelation" was worth all of the time I spent on this book. My second favorite was . . . oops . . . Amazon won't let me print the title . . .

I got this book out of my interest in Southern history and culture. What I got from it was incredibly deep, affecting, surreal yet crudely realistic portrayals of people in all of their hypocritical, self deceptive, self destructive, self righteous, vulgar, and funny ways. I didn't know people could write like this . . . or this well.
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Close to six hundred pages of Flannery O'Connor stories, which might feel overwhelming in a print book but not on the Kindle, where it doesn't matter how long it is and everything is immediately accessible at the touch of a finger. This collection is a great example of why I've come to treasure my Kindle!

This Kindle version is also very well produced, with a superb introductory essay written in 1971 by Robert Giroux, the late editor and publisher (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). The introduction can actually be read here on Amazon by using the 'Look inside' feature, worth the time for someone considering purchasing the book.

One minor quibble - this volume does not, strictly speaking, include all of Flannery O'Connor's short stories, omitting the posthumously published (1988) An Afternoon in the Woods (which for some reason is not included in either of the Farrar, Straus and Giroux short story collections of her works, this otherwise complete collection, or the less comprehensive Everything That Rises Must Converge: Stories).

In fact, the only thing more complete is probably the Library of America volume, which does contain An Afternoon in the Woods, along with all of her other short stories, both novels, and a selection of her essays and letters, altogether 1300 pages and no doubt a terrific volume for the bookshelf, but not available for the Kindle, as far as I know: Flannery O'Connor : Collected Works : Wise Blood / A Good Man Is Hard to Find / The Violent Bear It Away / Everything that Rises Must Converge / Essays & Letters (Library of America).

With respect to the writing itself, I am exploring it now but know that it will be superb. The lead review, by Mark Eremite, was particularly helpful, not that I required much convincing with respect to the value of her writing and this collection.

Flannery O'Connor's two novels are also available in similar Kindle editions:

Wise Blood

The Violent Bear It Away
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on May 31, 2013
Ever since I came upon "The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor" (while serving in the military overseas) this collection has been an integral part of my life. All of the stories have something of value in them, even the weaker ones; but an attentive reading of the best ones will leave an indelible impression: for example, "A Good Man Is Hard to Find", "Good Country People", "A View of the Woods", "The Enduring Chill", "Revelation". Some readers find O'Connor's fiction depressing but I do not. I never have. I enjoy these stories, savor them and return to them again and again. An important point to consider is that O'Connor's characters are usually damnable but are rarely, if ever, actually damned. A theology of hope-for-all permeates her fiction.

Of all these stories, I think it's "The Displaced Person" that pleases me most. Its length is less than a novel but it has about it the moral, historical and spiritual proportions of a great epic. Its ironic rendering of human folly and ignorance comes across with patient objectivity and humor, and so free of contempt as to seem miraculous. It's a rare writer who can portray such rustic or insufferable characters so believably on the one hand; but on the other, free of the taint of hatred or even condescension.
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on December 3, 2014
Some of the most pungent of Chekhov's stories are included here, including "The Murder", "In the Ravine", and "The Bishop". The version of "Peasants" is not the Constance Garnett translation but one by Edmund Wilson; I prefer the Garnett. "The Murder" is one of the most profound stories one can ever read, of two brothers who quarrel endlessly about whose religious practice is the truest and closest to the Church; neither of which is actually anywhere near the teachings of Christ. This idiotic battle leads to the murder of one of the brothers; in typical Russian fashion the perpetrators try to hide the crime, foolishly leaving clues to what really happened everywhere. All are sentenced to exile, and the brother who actually commits the killing ends up on the prison fortress of Sakhalin Island for trying to escape. In the last, thunderous scene he is seen shackled to other prisoners who work in a coal mine, hauled out of bed to provide coal for a steamer; but the seas are too rough to load the coal, the steamer's lights fade, and the convict reflects that in that place of true horrors he has finally figured out true religion.

Chekhov spent perhaps a year traveling on Sakhalin and wrote an exhaustive expose of the uselessness of the penal colony in terms of the purported aim of reforming prisoners. Instead, the convicts become so inured to the dull routine of hideous weather and slights from petty functionaries (the women are almost all driven to prostitution just to survive) that even the most minor sentence becomes a life-long one. Instead of rehabilitation, Sakhalin grinds its humans to dirt.

"In the Ravine" is a priceless examination of the varieties of human personality, and how the strong oppress the weak. Even the murder of a baby, for the sake of an inheritance, can be got away with if the murderer has enough gall.
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