Flannery O’Connor… Why?

I recently attended a seminar on two stories by Flannery O’Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find and Good Country People. I barely prepared for the discussion. I had read the first story a few years ago. I found a plot summary for the second story on the internet, and read a bit about O’Connor herself. A longish drive to the seminar event with friends completed my “preparation”.

O’Connor is the most depressing author I’ve ever read. In A Good Man is Hard to Find, a family you couldn’t possibly like (bitchy grandmother, henpecked son, bratty children) fall into the hands of the misfit. All are murdered. In Good Country People, an unscrupulous Bible salesman seduces a handicapped (and not very likeable) young woman and steals her prosthetic leg and eyeglasses to satisfy his perverted sexual fetishism. So much for plot…

Ugg. These stories put images into my head that I don’t want there. O’Connor described herself as a “Christian realist”, but I see no sign of any type of redemption in her tales. I was told her stories are allegorical, but I am a decidedly literal minded reader. O’Connor said (approximately) that readers who placed her work in the “horror” genre were generally reacting to the “wrong horror”. So there must be a point to these stories that I don’t get.

BUT these stories kept the seminar group talking! We ran 45 minutes overtime. People had plenty to say, so if one criterion of good literature is that it supports extended discussion, O’Connor’s stories are good. Another occasional criterion of good literature is that it takes people outside of their “comfort zone”. Flannery O’Connor goes WAY outside…

I found myself thinking about Steven King, whose autobiography On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft I discussed in a blog post on December 21, 2013. King embraced the “horror” genre 100%, and it made him rich. He seems to have disdained plot in favor of his “characters”, who, if I understand him correctly, often do things their creator finds surprising. What makes King so sensationally successful? I guess I will only find out by reading him, but for now I am taking a break from fiction.

If YOU have read a Stephen King novel, or seen a movie based on one (like The Shining), I’d love to hear what you thought of it! Meanwhile, I’m not recommending Flannery O’Connor, unless you are looking for something really gothic and creepy.

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One thought on “Flannery O’Connor… Why?

  1. I found my way to your blog and I’m glad to meet you here again after the seminar to which you refer in your post. I don’t know what the appeal of Stephen King or the reverence for Flannery O’Connor at SJC is all about but I suspect they are unrelated. O’Connor is not a horror writer, even though her stories have the effect of being horrifying. Her comment about “the wrong horror” is pretty funny. It suggests that she engages in some kind of thought experiment with shattering consequences which are anything but abstract, while King resolves the plot of The Shining in a manner that restores the world as we knew it.

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