Flannery O’Connor: The Complete Stories

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This collection is essential to both long time fans and first time readers interested in the work of Flannery O’Connor. My first time to read a handful of her short stories I was helpless to interpret them. One would expect that reading the 1950’s work of a female “Christ-centered” southern fiction writer would be a simple, modest or at least predictable experience.

However, while on the surface her material seems similar to other popular characterizations of the South (it is populated with racists, radicals, preachers, proper manners, crooked salesmen, farm animals, old money, haunting landscapes, gaudy outfits, cultural backwoods religion that borders on superstition, a wide variety of physical disabilities etc.) and while she writes in plain, though colloquial, English, the stories and her manner of telling them depict a strange, beautiful, comical and disturbing world all her own.

As with any good works of literature, the further I have read into her unique and surreal tales the more I have seen that they are the stories of everyone’s spiritual and physical deformities, including my own. While her work is humbling and full of supernatural grace, I would be amiss not to say that it is incredibly entertaining as well.

Published after she died young from lupus, The Complete Stories spans her entire short but prolific literary career, including the first complete short stories she ever wrote (and supposedly would have preferred not to have been published) all the way to her last piece “Judgment Day.” Over time I have come to learn that the best way to understand and enjoy her stories is to read more of them. This collection provides the perfect opportunity.

Profile photo of Chris Slaten

Chris is the mastermind behind Son of Laughter. His debut EP, The Mantis and the Moon, took just about everyone by surprise. He’s currently touring the country and raising money to record a full length record—which is cause indeed for rejoicing. Chris lives with his wife and children in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where he teaches high school literature and loves it.


25 Comments

  1. Caleb Land

    Great, great choice. I’m a huge fan and have been since Southern Lit. in college. Right now I live just down the road from her home/museum. Her stories are full of the ugly, the deformed and the profane, which makes grace stand out all the more in stark contrast.

    From this collection I recommend “The River.” It still haunts my dreams.

  2. Christina

    I’ve been a silent blogreader here for a long time but just had to comment on this post because I was so excited about it! I first read Flannery O’Connor as a college freshman emerging from the the land of Christian romance/thriller novels (ah, Janette Oke, bless her soul). I can still remember the first time I read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find.” I put the book down and thought to myself, “That is a perfect story.” I devoured this collection, and I still consider O’Connor a personal role model as a woman, a Christian, and a writer.

    Apart from “Good Man,” I’d say that “Revelation” is my favorite. Read this immediately, people. Run, don’t walk. (Mystery and Manners is a good follow-up and a must-read for anyone trying to figure out their place as a Christian and as a writer without being a “Christian writer.”)

  3. Nate

    Oh! This is the post I’ve been WAITING for. Flannery O Connor. Amazing. I havent even read it yet, but I had to comment. Such an incredible writer.

  4. Nate

    I would just like to add that not less than once I’ve felt like one of her characters when being totally overwhelmed by a big city. I was totally flumbustered in Cincy just a few weeks ago just trying to find a place to park, and I had to think of one of Ms OConnor’s country characters going to the city and getting plum hum-doogled. I can’t recommend her work enough.

    She once stated that most writers wrote as if God weren’t important. She said she wanted to write such that he was important, very important. And she does. I cant put a finger on favorites because all her stories just knock me off my feet, but I would mention “The Displaced Person” and “The Life You Save May Be Your Own” and “Good Country People” Thats a crazy story.

  5. Arthur Alligood

    Ah, Mr. Slaten thank you my friend. I was reminded of O’Connor just the other day when some nice ladies came by the house and tried in a courtoeus manner to convert me to Jehovah’s Witness. The Bible salesman in “Good Country People” came to mind. I kept thinking about his fancy valise. Thanks again Chris.

  6. Profile photo of Eric Peters

    Eric Peters

    @ericpeters

    “i believe i have injured an organ.”
    – a good man is hard to find –

    thanks for the nod to ms. o’connor, chris. great, weird stuff.

  7. lyndsay

    too many good things to read!! not enough time!! i’m going to have to quit my job just to be able to read all that i want.

  8. Chris Slaten

    “I’ll tell you another thing, Hulga…you ain’t so smart. I been believing in nothing ever since I was born!” – A deceitful Bible salesman to a nihilist with a PhD. Stated as the salesman steals her…well, you kind of just have to read it (from Good Country People).

  9. Leslie

    Thanks for this. I was an English major at Georgia College in Milledgeville, GA (where O’Connor majored in sociology) and had the pleasure of taking an entire course dedicated to her work. My favorite story is “The Displaced Person” – in part because of the following description of the priest’s encounter with the peacocks:

    The priest let his eyes wander toward the birds. They had reached the middle of the lawn. The cock stopped suddenly and curving his neck backwards, he raised his tail and spread it with a shimmering timbrous noise. Tiers of small pregnant suns floated in a green-gold haze over his head. The priest stood transfixed, his jaw slack. Mrs. McIntyre wondered where she had ever seen such an idiotic old man. “Christ will come like that!” he said in a loud gay voice and wiped his hand over his mouth and stood there, gaping.
    Mrs. McIntyre’s face assumed a set puritanical expression and she reddened. Christ in the conversation embarrassed her the way sex had her mother. . .

    O’Connor raised peacocks at her family farm, Andalusia. I’ve heard that some descendents of her birds are at a monastary in Conyers, GA. Seems appropriate.

  10. Kristen

    Three favorite, non-short story O’Connor quotes:

    “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you odd.”

    “There’s many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher.”

    “Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.”

  11. Drew

    I recommend “The Habit of Being,” a (huge) collection of O’Connor’s letters, for anyone trying to figure out what was in O’Connor’s head when she wrote a lot of these weird, weird stories. Her letters are chock full of wisdom as well as insight into so many of her characters and plots. It’s also enjoyable to read about her frustration with academics who just didn’t quite get what she was saying. (Particularly keen is her frustration with those who thought that the voice Tarwater hears in his head in “The Violent Bear It Away” is ‘the voice of reason.’ She was appalled that modern society no longer recognized the devil.)

    My copy of “The Habit of Being” has bookmarks tucked in all over it to highlight excellent quotes because I can’t bring myself to take a highlighter to the book. But if you’re not as OCD about such things, definitely bring a highlighter.

    My favorite quote is from a letter to Louise Abbot, dated somewhere around October 10, 1959. I used a portion of this quote in a comment here a couple weeks ago.

    “I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.

    What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.

  12. Drew

    Also . . . yes, I agree with Christina. “Revelation” is a fantastic story. I always thought it amusing that Mrs. Turpin got whacked in the head by a book called “Human Development.”

    I was looking for another favorite quote, and it turns out it’s in the same letter as I mentioned above:

    “[R]emember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn’t be worth understanding. A God you understood would be less than yourself.”

  13. Drew

    This is the first time I’ve ventured into the “Store” part of The Rabbit Room, just out of curiosity, because I already have (several?) copies of everything O’Connor wrote. And there in the store I see Annie Dillard’s “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” and “The Pacific,” by Mark Helprin.

    I really like you guys.

  14. Profile photo of Jonathan Rogers

    Jonathan Rogers

    @jonathanrogers

    If I had a couple of days, I would try to describe what Flannery O’Connor has meant to me. Since I don’t, I’ll just say that–quite apart from the spiritual significance of her work, which others have touched on–reading her stories made me understand the literary power that inheres in my native tongue (not just English, but the variety of English spoken in Middle Georgia, where both Flannery O’Connor and I grew up). There are turns of phrase in O’Connor that I’ve heard all my life but never would have dreamed of seeing in print (I’ve had the same experience with Uncle Remus–Joel Chandler Harris grew up one county over from O’Connor). I don’t make any special claims for Middle Georgia English; but the fact that some of the best short stories ever written happen to have been written in my native dialect has meant a lot to me as a writer, and has given me some confidence that I didn’t have to earn.

    I don’t have much patience for “local color”…Flannery O’Connor’s regionalism (if you can call it that) really is the opposite of local color in that it gives depth and dimension to characters rather than flattening them out and making them alien.

  15. Drew

    Jonathan, I’m reminded of the opening to “Huckleberry Finn,” in which Twain says that there are several different regional dialects present in the book, but to my ear (eye?) they’re all the same. However, I’m sure for someone in Missouri (Missoura?) and points south, they can pick ’em out.

    Because of O’Connor, I end most of my letters with “Cheers” or “Regards.”

    Regards,
    Drew

  16. Staci Frenes

    I’ve been a huge fan of O’Connor since being introduced to her in college, when I took a quarter-long course in her writing at UC Berkeley. All these years later, her Complete Stories is one of my all time favorite books. Her stories have a way of disturbing my conventional notions of good and bad; my assumptions are never quite safe with her. Characters behave on levels of depravity that are uncomfortable to witness, sort of like looking in a mirror with a little too much magnification….Not for the faint of heart, but worth every second of reading!

  17. Amber

    I read “The Violent Bear it Away”. I am an avid literature reader but I just don’t get this book. What are your thoughts?

  18. Jamie Soles

    After reading Flannery O’Connor my prayers changed somewhat; now they say “Please, Lord, don’t let me be the kind of man that Flannery O’Connor can skewer!”

  19. Phillip Johnston

    I had the privilege of visiting Flannery O’Connor’s homestead in Milledgeville, Georgia a few weeks ago. It is an absolute must for O’Connor fans; I will be going back this fall to read “The Lame Shall Enter First” yet again on a rocking chair on her front porch, a powerful story that has never been more relevant.

    I wrote some of my thoughts about the visit over at Wonders in the Dark (excuse the formatting): http://bit.ly/9XO2YS

  20. DrewSmusic

    I’ve enjoyed her short stories, but I chose read Wise Blood over Christmas (how seasonal!) and I’m still wrestling with it. Her writing was, of course, incredible, as were the personalities she conjured. It wasn’t always enjoyable, but it was captivating. I’d love to sit in a room of people and talk about it a while.

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