In a letter to me sometime around 1980 the poet Harry Calhoun raved about Flannery O’Connor’s short stories so much that I ran out to the local bookstore and bought Flannery O’Conner the Complete Stories. As well as I can remember, the only thing I had read of hers at the time was “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”
The thing about a collection of short stories is you don’t have to read it from front to back the way you would read a novel. You can skip around, read a story or two, put it aside to pick up again sometime later, and that’s what I did; I set it down and didn’t pick it up again until perhaps two or three years ago, and then set it aside again.
And then I went to a reading by Keith Eisner, a local author and good friend whose story “Blue Dot” was in this year’s The O’Henry Prize Stories: The Best Short Stories of the Year 2017. Eisner talked about stories that he considered transformative and said O’Conner’s “Revelation” was one of the best. So of course I had to take up her collected stories again. I read “Revelation” and was blown away. Never had I read a story a story that pictured hypocrisy, bigotry and boastfulness so powerfully. And then I read the rest of O’Connor’s stories. (OK, well not all at once; I read about five of the stories and then shelved the book to re-read Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, and then the rest of O’Connor’s stories.)
As I think back now over some of the short story writers I have loved over the years: Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Eudora Welty, Faulkner, I think that O’Connor might truly be the best of them all.
Her characters and the situations she describes in her stories, are at once familiar to me, a Southerner born and raised in Mississippi . . . and strange. Her use of metaphor and simile is spot-on, to the point, and yet odd—unexpected. To this expat Southerner’s point of view, her stories are even more quintessentially Southern Gothic than even Welty or Faulkner.
I say to whomever might be reading this, if you haven’t read her stories, you don’t know what you’re missing.
I invite you to let us know what short story writers have strongly affected you. Scroll down to “Leave a Reply” and post a short statement (500 words or shorter). We’d love to hear from you, and we’re sure our other readers would too.