Thursday, May 2, 2013

Reading Journal: A Good Man Is Hard to Find, by Flannery O'Connor (1955)

Opening with the outright spooky title story, which you've probably already read (it's about an ill-fated family car trip while a murderer's on the lam), O'Connor's debut collection remains a classic because, (among other reasons), she draws hypocrites the way no one else does, and often punishes them at the end of the story, giving many of her works a fable-like quality. My favourite story may have been the last one, "The Displaced Person," about a farm with a steady stream of unreliable, thieving, transient workers who come face-to-face with a Polish concentration camp survivor who works harder and better than any of them, which is refreshing until he begins asking to bring over more Poles, especially one cousin he wishes to marry off to one of the black workers, creating additional tension of the racist kind. Race is front-and-centre in most of the stories, in fact; another timeless piece, "The Artificial Nigger," tells of an old man and a 15-year-old boy who take a trip into Atlanta and try to prepare themselves for the black people they will see there. The stories are full of symbols and realist depiction of their time and environment alike, and they require your full attention, as O'Connor doesn't put the details up front, but drops them as she goes, sneaking up on you a few pages into a story you weren't sure about, when you find yourself suddenly desperate to know the ending. I didn't love every story, but they will bear - and, clearly, have borne - re-reading quite well over the years.

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