·Karen·'s Reviews > The Complete Stories

The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
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's review
Mar 29, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: short-stories, mttbr-2012, usa
Read from August 10, 2011 to March 20, 2012

Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

I can't imagine what it would have been like to live inside Mary Flannery O'Connor's head, obviously. But I am damned sure it can't have been agreeable. Her world is peopled with monsters. Damaged, limbs severed. Afflicted. Not whole. Children like evil spirits that descend on the sanctimonious. Parents that neglect, or beat their children. Bigots. The cruel and the feckless and the randomly murderous. Their names are monstrous too. Mr Shiftlet. A girl whose given name was Joy, but who changes it to the ugliest name in any language, Hulga. Unappealing children like poor Norton Sheppard: "He had very large round ears that leaned away from his head and seemed to pull his eyes slightly too far apart."

It's not only the humans who are aberrant, diabolical, macabre. A bull that gores Mrs Greenleaf. Stairs that turn into cliff faces, unassailable in this life or the next. A digger that seems to be eating the earth and spitting it out. Mythical beasts. Trees that leap out at you. Visions. The damned and the saved. "In the woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah."

My strongest impression is a kind of torpor. The people are ossified, so rigidly pressed into the forms moulded by their upbringing that any change or movement is fatal to them. Those transplanted to an alien environment barely survive. A woman who is confronted with the fact that her condescending penny handed to a black child is no longer accepted does not survive the shock. The younger generation are often ineffective, weak, artistic, but unproductive, incapable, noncommittal. Walter in Why Do The Heathen Rage?:

"Her son. Her only son. His eyes and his skull and his smile belonged to the family face but underneath them was a different kind of man from any she had ever known. There was no innocence in him, no rectitude, no conviction either of sin or election. The man she saw courted good and evil impartially and saw so many sides of every question that he could not move, he could not work, he could not even make niggers work. Any evil could enter that vacuum. God knows, she thought and caught her breath, God knows what he might do!
He had not done anything. He was twenty-eight now, and so far as she could see, nothing occupied him but trivia."

This betrays a view of the world that I find hard to swallow: flexibility, a plurality of attitude as an encumbrance that renders you immoveable. Those who have not changed a thing, those who live and work in the culture they have always known, they are the ones who can move, who have some get.

Religion in Flannery O'Connor's world is not a comfort that solaces the distressed, but rather a challenge to the weak, a force that dismays, a rage that cannot be quiet. The battle trumpet blares from heaven and see how our General marches fully armed. Not gentle Jesus, meek and mild.

Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?

By the way, please note: 5 stars!! It is a cabinet of curiosities, and a wonderful one at that.

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Reading Progress

08/15/2011 page 134
03/04/2012 page 235
42.0% "Magnificent: The Displaced Person."
03/16/2012 page 357
62.0% 4 comments
03/19/2012 page 445
77.0% "It's a weird and wonderful world that O'Connor inhabits."
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Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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·Karen· "The Crop", about a rather prissy lady writer getting lost in her own plot is hilarious.

message 2: by Tiffany (new)

Tiffany Thanks for the thoughtful review. I was hesitant in reading this tome because, of course, nothing could match "A Good Man is Hard to Find"! But you've given me the green light. I look forward to reading it.

·Karen· You're welcome - I hope you enjoy it.

message 4: by Mikki (new)

Mikki Well, now I see what you meant by "one tough cookie" and I'm guessing that her stories will be requiring close reading. Can't wait and maybe you'll pop in to chat when we get to some of your favorites.

message 5: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason can you clarify if this collection is every short story she wrote, or just a few? thanks.

·Karen· Well, the title should give you a hint.....

Yes, it contains both collections published in her lifetime, i.e. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories and Everything That Rises Must Converge plus three (?) or four maybe others that weren't included in either of those collections. Great value for money!

message 7: by Jason (new) - added it

Jason That's what I thought. A friend tried to tell me otherwise, and pointed out a few reviews online saying it wasn't her full collection. I think he meant it didn't have her longer works in it. Thanks, I can now copy and paste his remarks and throw I back in his face.

·Karen· No, it doesn't contain her novels, Wise Blood and The Violent Bear It Away. But there again, it is the Complete Stories, not the Collected Works.

Glad to provide ammunition. Use it wisely.

message 9: by Dolors (last edited Sep 03, 2015 12:22AM) (new)

Dolors Well stated review, Karen. I also find her self-deprecating humor quite admirable. In the end, she was a highly educated Catholic and very sick woman in the Georgia of the 50s!! She projected her situation on the younger characters in many of the stories and seemed to reprimand her own condescendence towards her countryfolks through them. Her vision of reality wasn't that distorted if one comes to think of it!

·Karen· Thanks Dolors. I hadn't thought of it that way, that she might be poking fun at herself. Good point, for yes, she was trapped, indeed.

I've had comments on my review of Wise Blood claiming that her grotesques are much closer to reality than I imagine. But when you read the whole collection, then the horror seems unremitting, I think. It dismays.

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