Tuesday, 19 May 2009


I was reading this again at the hairdresser's this morning. Surrounded by copies of 'Hello' and 'OK' and 'um' and 'er'. It has to be one of the best short stories in existence, and if it isn't, I'd like to know why.

I found the text online, HERE. Just for you. Go on. It's short...

One thing struck me as I began the story. By the end of the first page (the first fifteen lines of the text above), I have a clear sense of five characters and their relationships with each other, interpersonal tensions as well as family relationships. Perfectly done. It underlines for me that it is in reading work like this that any aspiring writer can learn so much. Direct from a master.

(The shirt? Read the story.)

Thank you to Tom Conoboy, whose seriously literary blog is HERE for THIS LINK where you can download a file and hear Flannery O'Connor reading A Good man Is Hard To Find herself.

(I chose the slow option, it took 3 years and froze my computer. Maybe there is a skill to this that I have not yet mastered...)


Tom Conoboy said...

It is an amazing story, brilliantly written. You can hear Flannery O'Connor actually reading it here: http://www.savefile.com/files/1763560

It works as a short story, as a lot of Flannery O'Connor's stories do, because of its brevity. She doesn't succeed as a novelist because the longer form shows where the faults are. They are, ultimately, in character. What O'Connor does is create puppets who act according to her religious credo. The Misfit eventually becomes Hazel Motes in Wise Blood, and the character doesn't come off. As our former tutor would say, it is author driven.

One of my favourite O'Connor stories is A Later Encounter with the Enemy. It actually moves me in a way that most Flannery O'Connor stories, for all their brilliance, don't.

Julia Bohanna said...

She always wows me with strangeness, the brutal nature of her characters and just pure brilliance. I studied this story at a short course and it just gets better the more you read it.

Oh to be half...no quarter of the writer she was before she was taken prematurely........

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Tom, and thank you for your comments and for the link. I am adding it to the post. I can't agree that her characters are puttpets, in this story though. I must have read it half a dozen times over the last few years. (OK, maybe less.. 4?) And I STILL find it hard to read the last page or two even though I know what is happening. I care about the characters... I must do.

The Misfit... yes, he is stock, the 'thinking sociopath', if there is such a thing. Until he speaks. I find him chilling 'becaue' of his lack of connection - but fascinating because of his understanding, and his 'analysis' however flawed, of 'higher things' (Sorry for all the quotation marks. Hard to do properly here.)

I also read An Artifical Nigger this morning. That was very interesting for many many reasons, not the least of which - how, on the face of things, we have moved on. And how in other ways, we have not.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Hi Julia
I am hooked. Again.

But reading the intro (and in the light of Tom's comments above ) I wonder how much her work would shine even more had she not edited it so hard.

Julia Bohanna said...

I can't agree either about her characters being puppets. Yes she was a Christian writer, a Catholic one at that - but her skill is in not being didatic about it. Her religious elements are also fused with other symbolism...deeper and deeper meaning. She shows open disgust at the body, at the violence inherit in human beings. There is so much complexity there.

Not sure either if hard editing is the problem - if there indeed a problem - but it's good to bear in mind that she was still a relatively young writer when she died of lupus...who knows how she might have developed as a writer.

She just excites me as a writer and like many other 'flawed' writers - Graham Greene is another - that oddness is her strength and the fascination she exerts for the reader makes up in spades for technical failings......