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Flannery O'Connor's short stories are fascinating the way looking at a household insect in a magnifying class is fascinating -- suddenly, a familiar, innocuous part of the world becomes a writhing grotesquery. Except, here, the object of examination is human self-importance, within the context of the American South circa 1960. If you've ever taken a creative writing class, you've probably read at least one of these stories. Fifty years after being written, they're still textbook examples of how to use flawed characters to reveal the absurdity of human attitudes. O'Connor sets her characters against some obstacle or antagonist, then dispassionately observes them as they drive themselves to their own ruin, usually with some final moment of epiphany.
It would be bleak stuff if it weren't so enthralling, and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny. There's the story of a young man who bristles at his mother's unthinking racism, yet whose own enlightenment rings false. There's a self-righteous father who neglects his disappointing son in order to "save" a delinquent teenage boy, whose feral cunning more than matches him. There's a self-satisfied middle-aged woman who can't understand why she attracts the ire of a college girl in a doctor's waiting room -- after all, she's the "right sort of person", not like that poor white trash family a few seats over.
My favorite in the collection deals with the dark comedy that results when the mother of a bookish 30-something hermit who still lives at home takes pity on and naively decides to rescue a very troubled young woman, much to her son's annoyance. Since I sometimes loan books I've finished to my own mother, I had a laugh at the thought of sharing that one. Not that I live with my mom or she often brings home tragic 19-year-old girls with nymphomaniac tendencies (alas).
There are a few other reasons O'Connor remains a staple of writing classes. She's great with language, voice, and nuanced observations of human behavior, and at using foreshadowing and meaningful imagery. She works in major social issues (e.g. race) and religious themes (e.g. suffering, epiphany), but doesn't hit the reader over the head with them.
If you enjoy stories that are dark, unsparing, and grotesque, but also humorous, compassionate, and deeply honest, consider this collection. Reading up on O'Connor's life, which came to an early end from illness, it wasn't hard for me to see how some of her own personal trials must have informed her work. The brilliance of these stories still shines, and her influence is visible in later writers who have picked up on her methods (e.g. Jonathan Franzen, Claire Messud).
The audiobook production is pretty good. Some readers are better than others (one guy's voices sound like characters from South Park!), but I think you really need to have those thick southern accents in your head to fully appreciate the writing, so consider a listen.
44 of 44 people found this review helpful
Would you listen to Everything That Rises Must Converge again? Why?
Absolutely. This is some of the most brilliantly cutting fiction that's ever been written.
What did you like best about this story?
What I liked about Flannery's stories is exactly what I don't like about them. They're painful. She exposes the arrogance of progressive/liberal thinking and the shallowness of conservative niceness. Wherever you find yourself landing, she's got a scathing revelation awaiting you. But that's exactly why I keep coming back to her stories. She exposes both my arrogance and my shallowness.
What does the narrators bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you just read the book?
These very well chosen narrators bring local color and life to the characters that I simply wouldn't have provided if I were reading the stories silently in my head. The biting tone of some and the simpering of others. So well done.
If you could take any character from Everything That Rises Must Converge out to dinner, who would it be and why?
Absolutely none of them. They are all dreadful!
26 of 26 people found this review helpful
Alternate stories were read by a male and female voice respectively which made the whole book more pleasant to listen to.
3 of 3 people found this review helpful
There may not be anything supernatural in these stories,but they do exude a sinister atmosphere.Individual tales linger in the mind,long after reading (such as "A View Of The Woods" and "Parker's Back").The stories are read alternatively by male and female voices and this works quite well.An interesting collection of Southern Gothic tales that reflects the America of the 1950's/1960's and in some ways reveals sadly,that things haven't really changed at all !