Saturday, May 31, 2014

Flannery O'Connor's Everything That Rises Must Converge

         
 
Everything That Rises Must Converge
Everything That Rises Must Converge (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
       Aside from the Little Golden Books that were a part of my life from my earliest memories, the first book that I could call my very own was a book about insects that my parents gave me at Easter when I was five.  I have no idea why they gave me that book, but this was the beginning of my passion for collecting books.

        For many years my home library primarily consisted of Hardy Boys mysteries and the Tom Swift science fiction series.  In adolescence I joined the Doubleday Book Club and began acquiring a broad selection of novels, short story collections, and non-fiction.  An eclectic reading interest flourished in me as I avidly consumed book after book.

        In my college years at the University of Tennessee I majored in English.  A new world of Southern Literature was introduced to me.  I began reading William Faulkner, James Dickey, Eudora Welty, Cormac McCarthy and a host of others.  It was unlike most of what I had read in the past.

        The author I'm here to proselytize about is Flannery O'Connor.  Her body of work is relatively small in comparison to many authors, but her stature and influence has been pervasive.  She only published two novels and three short story collections.  The short story is where she excels.  Her stories are strange, mystical, and sometimes rather frightful.

         The collection I would most recommend to readers is Everything That Rises Must Converge.   This book is filled with some of the strangest characters you will ever meet in some of the most outlandish stories you may ever read.   Keep in mind that this is literature from the 1950's with characters who reflect some of the racist attitudes of that time.  O'Connor's intent was not to offend, but to accurately portray what the people she writes about were like.

         Everything That Rises Must Converge is at times creepy, scary, and oftentimes funny.   O'Connor writes in a simple straight-forward style that makes her work highly readable.   Yet the profound nature of her themes will make you think and give you stories that may stick in your craw and haunt you long after you've read them.

        If you're interested in unique American literature with depth that is fluid and readable, I highly recommend starting with Everything That Rises Must Converge.  No matter where you start in Flannery's work, you will be rewarded with a memorable reading experience.  She is one of the greatest American female authors and a giant of Southern Literature.

         One of my favorites for sure!

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          This post originally was a guest post that I did over at the Unconventional Librarian blog.

            Currently at Tossing It Out I am doing a data gathering and informational series concerning the topic of preferences and why we like what we like.   If you haven't read my post on literature yet I hope you will visit the post The Greatest Short Story Ever Written? and answer the questions to help me with my research.   Upcoming on Tossing It Out will be a Battle of the Bands post on music on Sunday June 1st and a special #IWSG post about movies.
         

       
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9 comments:

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

BOIDMAN ~

>>... 1) If you have read this story, do you think it is the best short story ever written? If you happen to read Revelation for the first time as a result of my essay, please let me know your reactions to it.

OK, I just now read it for the first time due to your blog bit. No, to me it's not the best short story ever written, but I did like it.

I liked the way she got inside Turpin's mind and showed us her mental patterns, and why she thought she was so righteous without ever seeing herself as she really was; without noticing her judgmental attitude and holier-than-thou sense of superiority.

>>... 2) What do think is the best short story ever written? Why?

I don't know about "best", only what I myself like best.

>>... 3) What is your favorite short story? Why?

Put me down also for 'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' by Ambrose Bierce.

I saw where you seemed to downgrade it because "it breaks the Dream rule". If by that you mean the twist ending (actually kind of a momentary daydream of last hope, not actually a dream while asleep), I don't have a problem with that.

You've got to remember that was written long before the "dream" twist ending had become a trite plot device. In fact, I don't know that it had even been used before Bierce's 'Owl Creek'. If someone used it TODAY, sure I would feel cheated, but I think that was a pretty original twist for its day.

I like the story because of its intensity and the way it leads the reader down one road and then chokes that road to death at the end (yeah, the "twist" at the end of his rope).

I like some of Mark Twain's short stories, such as 'The Mysterious Stranger' and 'The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg'.

In my copy of 'The Complete Short Stories Of Mark Twain', I find 'Buck Fanshaw's Funeral' included. But since that was really just a portion excerpted from Twain's second novel 'Roughing It', I did not count it as eligible, having not been originally conceived as a short story.

If 'Buck Fanshaw's Funeral' really had been a genuine short story, that one would have been my favorite, even ahead of 'Owl Creek'.

>>... 4) For you what is it that makes a short story good? What makes for a great story?

I'm not big into short stories. As you know, I'm not really a fan of novels anymore either. I'm about 99.95% a nonfiction reader, period.

What makes a short story good or great are the same things that make a novel good or great: Make me think deeply about something; show me a new viewpoint; entertain me; surprise me – any or all of those things. I think good storytelling is basically the same whether the story is long or short.

I know Hemingway was well known for his short stories. I read quite a few of them “back in the day” and never cared for them. I think Hemingway was vastly overrated in general.

I know a lot of people like O. Henry’s short stories. Eh... I definitely like a few of his very much but I have two problems with O. Henry: 1) He was preoccupied or obsessed with class distinctions; so many of his stories are about “this rich person here, and that poor person over there”, and I just got tired of that theme. 2) After you’ve read enough of his stories, you pick up on the pattern that he uses for his “twist” endings, and after awhile you can see the “surprise” coming before you get to it.

Probably my favorite moment in O’Connor’s story ‘Revelation’ was this:

>>... If Jesus had said to her before he made her, "There's only two places available for you. You can be either a nigger or white trash," what would she have said?

That made me laugh out loud! Oh, yeah, I can just imagine Jesus saying that to some soul. Sounds EXACTLY like the Jesus I find in my Bible. Ha!

~ D-FensDogg
‘Loyal American Underground’

Stephen T. McCarthy said...

Oops! This comment was really meant for your 'TOSSING IT OUT' blog. I thought I was at 'TIO' when I submitted this.

Well, you gotta cut me some slack: I've been awake since 7:15 PM YESTERDAY!

~ D-FensDogg-Tired
'Loyal American Underground'

Arlee Bird said...

Oops! This comment was really meant for your 'TOSSING IT OUT' blog

Not at all a problem since I purposely interconnected the two posts in hopes of promoting my "data gathering" survey. Thank you for the extensive comments--the best so far and probably the best I'll get.

.... not the best short story ever written, but I did like it.

So now I would encourage you to read what is her most famous story A Good Man Is Hard to Find. I think you'd really appreciate the dark humor and rather horrific ending of that one. It also has a pretty amazing Christian message. All of her stories are worth checking out. Also you might check out the John Huston directed film version of O'Connor's novel Wiseblood. It's an odd film like the story, but I guess Huston translated it to film as well as could be.

I don't know about "best", only what I myself like best.

This gets to the gist of the series about preferences. Why do people like what they like?

'An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge' by Ambrose Bierce.

I still think the "it was only a dream" type endings are a bit of a cop-out, but in the case of this story it is fitting. I like the story. I think the dream concept of the film version of Wizard of Oz was very well done. The dream can work effectively if it's not just used as an escape from coming up with a logical conclusion and actually since I happen to like the topic of dreams I'm not quite as turned off by the dream "cop out" ending as some.

Sadly, I haven't read much of Twain's shorter pieces, but I've no doubt that they are good entertainment with some astute political and social observations.

what is it that makes a short story good?

You and I are in agreement about the criteria. I've enjoyed what I've read by Hemingway--I like his simplicity of style. Same with O'Connor. The convoluted styles of pre-20th century writers can be rather burdensome for me. I've read that a lot of that writing was like that because the authors were getting paid by the word so they added a lot of them. I like things stated simply with a striking image here or there.

That made me laugh out loud!

That's what I like about O'Connor's writing. She can take something offensive or in horrific context and make it so absurd that it's funny. I would have loved to have spent an afternoon chatting with Flannery sipping ice tea on her porch in Milledgeville, GA. She had to have been some wry lady. Again, I encourage you to read A Good Man Is Hard to Find. That's a story that I think would be right up your alley. You can also find a recording online of O'Connor actually reading that work and it's pretty interesting to listen to. I don't know the link right off, but you can find it pretty quick on Google.

Thanks for the stimulating comment.
Lee



Stephen T. McCarthy said...

BOIDLEE ~
This brief(er) reply is my last act before brushing my teeth and going to bed for the day.

>>... So now I would encourage you to read what is her most famous story A Good Man Is Hard to Find.

OK, I definitely WILL. (Does that famous saying originate with her? No, I guess it must not, because I know Mae West parodied it, and I think that must have been before O'Connor's story.)

>>... Also you might check out the John Huston directed film version of O'Connor's novel Wiseblood.

I like John Huston, and I will do that TOO. In fact, I'll see if NetFlix has it even BEFORE I brush my teeth and go to bed.

>>... I still think the "it was only a dream" type endings are a bit of a cop-out, but in the case of this story it is fitting. ... I think the dream concept of the film version of Wizard of Oz was very well done.

Well, again, I'd be surprised if you could find the "dream" or "daydream" twist ending used BEFORE 'Owl Creek', so as far as I know, it was a totally original concept and must have come as a real "shocker" to those who read that story back when it was first published.

And, yeah, I love 'The Wizard Of Oz' also. But that was long ago and far away. Under NO CIRCUMSTANCES do I want to see a "dream" used as a twist ending in ANY story (book or film) today. Been there done that... too many times now.

However, I don't at all object to dreams being used in a story, so long as it's not meant to deceive the reader or viewer.

In my one and only screenplay, I used two dreams that were depicted as occurring simultaneously. The Black girl and White guy are sleeping side-by-side and each one is dreaming. The dreams are highly symbolic - and they're obviously dreams from the start, and not an attempt to fool the viewer - and the dreams (were to be) filmed in black & white. Get it? Some insist that we only dream in black & white, plus the story is about an interracial couple in which race, not surprisingly, comes into play in the story.

I used the dreams to symbolically illustrate what each person was secretly fearing at that moment in the story.

>>... I would have loved to have spent an afternoon chatting with Flannery sipping ice tea on her porch in Milledgeville, GA.

I'll join you, but only if no one objects to me spiking my iced tea with a little Tennessee whiskey.

>>... Thanks for the stimulating comment.

My pleasure. Plus, it's not like you haven't done the same for me at my blog(s).

~ D-FensDogg
'Loyal American Underground'

Arlee Bird said...

StMc-- Hitchcock used some very effective dream sequences to reveal hidden ideas or provide clues. He was a master of using dreams within his films.

Lee

Kelly Robinson said...

Maybe because I prefer novels to short stories, my favorite thing of hers is THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY. Th first chapter was first published as a short story ("You Can't Be Any Poorer Than Dead"), but the novel goes much deeper.

D Biswas said...

I've read this one, and like most of her work, loved it.

Arlee Bird said...

Kelly -- I recall liking The Violent... a great deal though it's been a very long time since I've read it. I even did a paper in college on this work. I need to find my copy so I can reread it.

Damyanti -- She was a true craftsperson of the written word.

Lee


Dee said...

Dear Lee, I've never read O'Connor although a life-long friend of mine considers her, as you do, as one of the finest writers of the 20th century.

I'm not much of a short story writer as I find these writings often too poignant or sad for me. They often upset me. Also, I like to live with characters longer than a short story permits.

But I so remember teaching the short story "The Lottery" by Shirley Jackson. I never had a student who wasn't enthralled by that story. Peace.