Title: 3 Complete and Unabridged in One Volume: Wise Blood | A Good Man is Hard to Find | The Violent Bear It Away
Author: Flannery O’Connor
Page Count: 447
Publication Date: 1962
Reading Flannery O’Connor for the first time was transformative for me. The first story I ever read by her was Good Country People a short story where a fake Bible salesman steals the artificial leg of, Hulga, a 32-year-old woman with a Ph.D. in philosophy who “doesn’t believe in anything.” It was followed quickly by A Good Man is Hard to Find, another short story about a family who gets into a car crash and then is killed by a con on the run.
The way Flannery writes has always drawn me in. I’m enraptured by her prose out of morbid fascination, like a car crash on the highway I cannot turn away from. If you’ve never picked up one of her books, she’s hard to explain. A master of the Southern Gothic writing style, Flannery highlights the flaws of human nature in every piece she writes. No matter the color or creed of her characters, they all have a dark side that they manage to address through self-reflection by the end of the story — often involving some form of violence or trauma inflicted on them. I’ve wanted to read more of her work for years — especially her novels– and when I picked up this book while at the American Writer Muesum’s Get Chick Lit event in March, I knew it was time.
Now that I’ve read every last page of this anthology I can tell you I’ll never read this book cover to cover ever again. Back-to-back readings of two novels, one novella, and many short stories by Flannery was an overdose of her work. I became numb to the disturbing nature of her stories, while still experiencing a constant sensation of ick at the same time. When I finished the entire work I was obsessively wondering, “What was she thinking?”
I turned to blog posts and Wikipedia entries about Flannery, her life, and her upbringing. Her fascination with pain makes sense — she suffered and eventually died from lupus at the age of 39. She was also Orthodox Catholic, a religion that believes you become one with God through moments of grace. Flannery strove to find grace in her pain and had her characters do the same. She saw beauty in the strange and imperfect as well – leaning heavily into amputees, the blind, the deaf, and the disabled throughout her work.
Flannery did not come without her faults either and was very clearly racist and xenophobic, both in her everyday life and through her word choice and character descriptions. You might decide to not read this book because you know of her bigotry and that’s ok, but leaving the past in the past puts us at the risk of letting history repeat itself. We have to unpack the wrongdoings of the people before us so that we can learn and grow from it.
Knowing what I know about Flannery now, I feel that even with her deeply seeded beliefs she was a woman ahead of her time. For example, one of my favorite stories within this collection, A Stroke of Good Fortune is about a woman in denial about being pregnant. Everyone else around her knows that she is, but she refuses to believe it and has been fighting against pregnancy her entire life. The internal battle between being an independent woman and becoming a mother is a very modern one that I feel is artfully depicted in this story. I was also entranced by A Displaced Person which addresses xenophobia perfectly and should be used in every classroom in America.
I could go on and on about Flannery and my fascination with her, but I’ll leave you with one of her quotes that I use to have hanging on my dorm room wall instead:
I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.– Flannery O’Connor
While the anthology I read is no longer in print, you can still purchase the two novels and short story collection on their own (I highly recommend it to avoid an O’Connor overdose):
The novel Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor can be purchased here.
Her short story collection, A Good Man Is Hard to Find & Other Stories can be found here.
And finally, The Violent Bear It Away is on sale here (if you dare).