For the Love of Flannery

When I travel, I look for two souvenirs to bring home, a set of earrings, and a book by a local author.  Last February, I visited my mom and stepfather at their new home in Greenville, SC.  While enjoying downtown Greenville on one of the few not rainy days, I checked out the fantastic M. Judson Booksellers on Main Street.  One beauty of a local bookstore is the local writer’s section.  I picked up The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor.  It took up a good chunk of my backpack on the plane ride home.

Flannery was a Georgian writer, not from South Carolina, but I wasn’t mad that they wanted to show off their favorite southern writers.  I’d read pieces here and there by Flannery and was thrilled to find a complete collection of every short story she’s written.  Including The Geranium: A Collection of Short Stories part of her MFA from the State University from Iowa. The book is compiled in chronological order so you can follow her progression as a writer. 

For fans of Flannery, they know she lived a short life due to having lupus. Towards the end was spent mostly in her childhood home.  I’m blown away by how much she created.  She only has a couple of novels, but there are lectures and essays as well as short stories.  It turns out she was progressive and “sassy” as Erin McDade called her in her article Why I Love Flannery O’Connor.  As a northerner, I think of Edna St Vincent Millay as good progressive and sassy comparisons who also struggled with illness.

I’ll admit I didn’t read the hefty tome right away.  It wasn’t until after some people suggested I engross myself in some Southern Gothic.  Flannery’s name was the top of the list of authors to read.  I couldn’t get enough of the dark, ironic, twisted tales.  They only got stronger and more rich as she progressed, which gives a newer writer hope for improvement. 

After finishing the collected works, several images continue to haunt my mind, and here are two.  One is A Good Man Is Hard to Find, and the other is A View of the Woods.  First, I want to point out the titles.  I love something complex tied up with a simple and deceptive title.  Both also both share a twisted, brutal humanity that I could feel coming as I read, but couldn’t turn away.  Both have a focus on families with a grandparent and children.  The grandparents have theses idea of how they want things to go, along with a sense of nostalgia and control over the situations.  Of which they’ve lost all control.

Considering she died in 1964, so many of her works feel as if they were written today addressing current issues.  I’m sure that’s due to her power of human observation.  The Barber is an excellent example of a story that if you picked it up today with the current social-political climate, you’d think someone had written it as an allegory.  The story shows how far people will go to make their point when they believe someone doesn’t agree or respect their opinion. 

In short – if you’re not a fan of dark and weird, she’s not your writer.  If you love that Edgar Allen Poe, Twilight Zone vibe, then she should be on your book pile. Also, if you can make a peacock and Flannery O’Connor joke and someone else laughs, you know you’ve found your people.

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