A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories (1955) by Flannery O’Connor was one of the last books on my 50 Books Every Woman Should Read Before She Turns 40 List. I previously knew neither the author nor the book, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. And to be honest, I’m not exactly sure what to think now that I’m done. I’m impressed by O’Connor’s writing, disturbed by the content, disturbed by the pervasive racism, and once again impressed that I had such a visceral reaction to her stories.
The book is comprised of ten short stories that primarily take place in the South in the mid-20th Century. A couple of them reference World War II but I did not notice any specific dates. The stories are usually centered around a family, a couple, or a mother and her daughter and their interactions with their help, their neighbors, and visitors. Of the ten stories in this book, four of them ended with people dying (mostly tragically), and four had someone in the story betraying another in a way that made me feel sick to my stomach. Finishing this book became a relatively stressful experience.
O’Connor is a talented writer. Her characters felt real and well-rounded with very little description. When you throw in the disturbing conclusion to many of her stories, they become very memorable. Perhaps what also bothered me is that O’Connor did not give much reasoning for the evil characters’ actions or any judgment of their actions. It seemed a pretty bleak view of the world.
I read that Flannery O’Connor was a Roman Catholic and her religion influenced her writing. There were certainly religious characters and scenes in her books, including priests, a Bible salesman, a religious revival, and a religious school. Some of her stories seemed to bring up religious questions. However, she didn’t seem to be promoting religion through her stories. In fact, I learned almost nothing about the author’s point of view while reading her book. I could not tell if she was commenting on something she didn’t like in society or approved of it. There is a heavy amount of racism throughout the book, which is surely an accurate representation of the time and place, but I couldn’t tell what she thought about it.
So, in the end, I am again left not knowing what to think about this book. I wanted some kind of catharsis or explanation after one or another horrible thing happens. But O’Connor never gives it to us. There is no final judgment, and we usually don’t find out what happens to the transgressors or the victims. It was frustrating, but it’s also part of what made her stories so memorable.
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