3 By Flannery O'Connor: Wise Blood / A Good Man Is Hard to Find / The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O'Connor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
If I had read this book in high school, I would have finished it thinking, "Wow. Well, at least this sort of thing doesn't happen anymore, because we're thankfully beyond religious fundamentalism."
Then I moved to southern Alabama to go to college, where all of O'Connor's character types are living, breathing people then and today. For literary purposes, some of their traits are exaggerated-- but not terribly. I had a literature professor my freshman year, before I'd had enough cultural exposure there, try to explicate "Southern grotesque," and I'm sure we read an O'Connor short story as part of that concept. It was not until I lived and worked among rural Southern people that the deeply-rooted mindsets about which she wrote became living, breathing entities. The intellectuals, the violence, the squaring-off between urban and rural people, the fear-based religious zealotry, and the young people trying to decide on which side they stand while not realizing that the choice has been made for them: all of them are real.
I live in a different part of the South now, and reading O'Connor's three longer works and short stories brought the dawning of my realization back to me. She writes as an enlightened native, and people who have not wrestled with these angels may not understand the archetypes or the significance of the struggle. But if you want to know what goes on down those sunny, dusty dirt roads in the rural South, these works will explain the old mindsets and the new. In this world, a well-raised person is just as likely to beat, rape, and murder as someone raised among criminals, and he's likely to have a plausible reason for doing so.
O'Connor wrote this in the mid-20th century, so you'll encounter some racial language that is part of its times and highly offensive now.
It's not a long book, and the shorter stories are quickly read, but this book takes a long time to digest and none of it is easy going. I would recommend having lighter fare for when you need to take a break. You'll finish with a profound recognition and understanding of a highly misunderstood corner of our nation.
View all my reviews