I’m halfway through the complete short stories of Flannery O’Connor, and I think I’m mentally finished with the lot. I got through all the main ones anyway: A Good Man is Hard to Find is better the second time, especially since the overhanging sense of doom is so much more noticeable when you know what’s going to happen in the end. If pain is pleasureable, then O’Connor is ecstacy. It was hard to read the stories as a novel because after every short story I just wanted to sit, and think, and cathart about it for a while.
Ugly, poor, doom, pain, repentence, God, fate, tragedy, yearning, frustration, heavily laced with violence, irony, and the abosuletly ridiculous. Every O’Connor story starts with a harsh theme–say, educated and poor in 1930’s south–and then it snowballs into something huge and horrible, until the tension alone is just about to kill you, then it ends with a death or an act of violence or a purely symbollic gesture. You would say it’s overdramatic if you weren’t so caught up in the story yourself. I think she resolves short stories in the only way that they should be resolved: with a bang so horrific you can’t decide if its worthy or not. The endings seem much less like a sum-up and more like a visceral release to the tension that has been building in the story. I don’t know what the endings mean, I can’t grasp the meaning, and yet I don’t care. I just feel great.
The best parts of O’Connor is when she goes so extreme it just becomes ridiculous. "Artificial Nigger" is about an old man and young boy, both hopeless country folk, going into town for the day. You know it’s bad from the beginning when the old man says he will keep the station in sight so that they will find it again and be able to go home. They wander around, get lost, lose their food, lose their faith in eachother. They end up trembling and broken in a rich part of town very far from the station with no hope of getting back to the station. They see this "artificial nigger": a ceramic garden decoration of a black boy eating a watermelon. The way she describes this statue–with the painting faded, and the cement holding it down loosened so that the black boy is leaning forward dangerously—it seems much more pitiful that the two country people put together. Where they are, their situation, the comic yet pitiful image of the black boy come together spectacularly so that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry. And then the old man realizes that pain is a gift to God, and he only wishes that his life has held more struggle, so that he can be more worthy for God when death comes. Anyone who can go from a silly image of a ceramic black boy eating watermelon that rich people put on their lawns to a theological realization about pain is magnificent.
I remember that little black boy, and I remember Enoch the Gorilla. The second one makes me laugh when I’m in the middle of doing something else. It so… everything at once. When I first read "Enoch and the Gorilla" I didn’t like it, but I think you should read the other stories with Enoch in them first. It’s best to see the full progression of his sad sad character to fully appreciate his absolutely silly end. He’s all about making connections in the city, and the way he solumnly holds out his hand to a strange couple in a park while in his gorilla costume makes me laugh and laugh. Who can really write a tragedy that centers around a gorilla costume? O’Connor, that’s who.
She also has a way with words.
"Enoch was the kind of person that was always looking at something else at the time that Fate was pulling her leg back to kick him."
"He was like a friendly hound dog with light mange."
There’s this part where a boy is about to get baptised and he thinks that its so quiet he can hear the sun splintering in the water.
I think that first one has a lot to do with why I love O’Connor. You can feel that foot of Fate pulling back, while the characters stand there looking at trinkets. Every story is just one long pulling back.