A book of short stories, Everything that Rises must Converge by Flannery O’Connor
In general, I am not a short story gal. I love a good novel that I can really sink my teeth into. Flannery O’Connor, however, is the exception to my rule. Something about her writing is just so intoxicating. Even in a short story format, it’s so rich and fulfilling. You feel as though you’ve plumbed the depths of her characters and their stories despite the brief length. To me, that marks an extremely talented writer.
I know that most people focus upon the Christian elements in O’Connor’s writing, which to be fair, are quite prevalent throughout all of the stories in this collection. However, the thing that struck me is the way she writes mothers. In nearly every story, there is a male narrator dealing, to some degree, with a well-meaning but overbearing (often racist/bigoted) white mother (or, in my favorite story, an overbearing wife). The father is almost always deceased or out of the picture–tapping into some autobiographical similarities with O’Conner herself, whose father died when she was young. I found the dynamic between the narrator and their mothers fascinating and quite telling. I also feel that the mothers represented the “Old South” and the narrators were the new breed of “liberal Southerner” trying to find a new way. The two are consistently at odds, and neither ever really “wins” in terms of the conflict. The fact that so many of her narrators are males also intrigues me–I’m not sure why, but it merits further thinking. O’Conner’s settings are also quite endearing–beautiful rural farmland, small town America–it evokes a nostalgia for a “better time” that perhaps, as O’Conner seems to suggest, never truly existed. Maybe this is her overarching theme in this collection.
Regardless of your intentions–be they scholarly interest or pure entertainment–O’Conner will not disappoint. Her characters are wonderfully, scandalously flawed, and entirely real in their shortcomings. The racial issues she takes to task are still completely relevant to today’s reader–some would argue maybe even more so. Whatever you take away from this collection, and believe me, there is a lot, you will be satisfied.