Flannery O'Connor: Collected Works, Library of America by Flannery O'Connor (HC/DJ)
Her fiction brilliantly explores the human obsession with seemingly banal things. It might be a new hat or clean hogs or, for Hazel Motes, hero of Wise Blood (1952), an automobile. “Nobody with a good car needs to be justified,” Hazel assures himself while using its hood for a pulpit to preach his “Church Without Christ.” As in O’Connor’s subsequent work, the characters in this novel are driven to violence, even murder, and their strong vernacular endows them with the discomforting reality of next-door neighbors. “In order to recognize a freak,” she remarks in one of her essays, “you have to have a conception of the whole man.”
In the title story of her first, dazzling collection of stories, A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955), the old grandmother discovers the comic irrelevance of good manners when she and her family meet up with the sinister Misfit, who claims there is “no pleasure but meanness.” The terror of urban dislocation in “The Artificial Nigger,” the bizarre baptism in “The River,” or one-legged Hulga Hopewell’s encounter with a Bible salesman in “Good Country People”—these startling events give readers the uneasy sense of mysteries about to be revealed.
Her second novel, The Violent Bear It Away (1960), casts the shadow of the Old Testament across a landscape of backwoods shacks, modern towns, and empty highways. Caught between the prophetic fury of his great-uncle and the unrelenting rationalism of his uncle, fourteen-year-old Francis Tarwater undergoes a terrifying trial of faith when he is commanded to baptize his idiot cousin.
The nine stories in Everything That Rises Must Converge (1965) show O’Connor’s powers at their height. The title story is a terrifying, heart-rending drama of familial and racial misunderstanding. “Revelation” and “The Enduring Chill” probe further into conflicts between parental figures and recalcitrant offspring, where as much tension is generated from quiet conversation as from the physical violence of gangsters and fanatics.
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