I Tried, Flannery. I Really Tried

I couldn’t find a good photo of Flannery O’Connor herself, so instead, I used this picture of peacock. Because Flannery loved peacocks.

You may recall last December when I posted my intention to read the works of Flannery O’Connor in the days to come. I decided that she was worth a shot after hearing everyone–from college professors to miscellaneous bloggers–tout her as one of the greatest authors in the world. Having read three of her stories, it’s hard to disagree that Miss O’Connor had some real talent. But so far, I can’t call myself a fan.

I really wanted to like this author. Given that she was a female author from the South who was known for writing gritty, too-real-for-comfort stories about grotesque characters, I was hoping she might fill the Harper Lee-shaped void in my life caused by my already having read To Kill a Mockingbird cover-to-cover twice. I had been told that she was one of the best American authors who ever lived, so the writer in me also hoped to get a mentor out of the deal. But alas, I have yet to learn how to love Flannery.

To be fair, I’ve only read three of her short stories to completion, and considering that she wrote around thirty stories, plus two novels and dozens of essays, that’s just a small sliver of her work. But of the stories I have read, “The Barber,” “The Crop,” and “You Can’t Be Any Poorer than Dead,” none of them have had the same effect on me that they seem to have on countless other people. Each was as I expected: it dealt with imperfect, unpolished characters, it had a Southern-fried tinge about it, and it dealt with human nature and its problems in some profound ways. But the stories I finished I finished because I willed myself to; reading her work seemed more like homework than anything else.

This has nothing to do with O’Connor’s talent as a writer: I see now why people say she was a master storyteller, and I did enjoy how keenly she seems to grasp her characters and all of their tangled-up motives and emotions. But for me personally, her stories did not strike a chord.

Perhaps she’s just too different from what I’m used to. I have been reading a lot of mid-century science fiction lately, and (let’s face it) science fiction is made for people with short attention spans. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if the Flannery fans were smarter, more astute, or wiser than I am (I have a dreadful feeling that some of them are). But for me, Flannery O’Connor doesn’t quite make the cut. Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s another rocket about to land on Mars. πŸ˜‰

8 thoughts on “I Tried, Flannery. I Really Tried

  1. I’ve only read one O’Connor story — “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” — and it was for school. I wasn’t a huge fan, so I haven’t gotten around to reading any more of her work yet, although I keep meaning to.


    1. Well like I said earlier, I was hoping for someone similar to Harper Lee and she certainly wasn’t that. I think Lee tends to just cut to the chase, whereas O’Connor sort of mills around a little in the scene. But perhaps you wouldn’t find her so. I thought about reading “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” too, since that’s supposed to be one of O’Connor’s better stories, but I always get sidetracked.


  2. I plan on reading Flannery O’Connor in the future.Maybe this year or the next – it depends how many books I managed to finish this year.

    Hmm,even so,I’m not that enthusiastic to read her stories.I’ve portrayed her writing in my mind just as you did in this post.The fact that most of her stories are gloomy and are set in a sort of Southern setting doesn’t really entice me…


    1. Wow. I don’t even know for sure what I’m going to read next month, let alone a year from now! I sort of envy those who can bring their reading into some kind of order. πŸ™‚

      I rather like the Southern settings since I’m from the South myself (gives it a kind of homey feel and makes it easier for me to relate to), but whenever I read a Flannery O’Connor story, I get the feeling of having cold water thrown on me. So I probably won’t be reading her much.


  3. I read a couple of her stories, for a literature class, and I think you described her style well: gritty and southern. I admire her talent and craft, but her stories don’t have the same pull on me as others. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I find that in literature, many authors are too sacred to dislike. I love hearing both sides of the matter! Not all writers are for all people.


      1. Well thank you. πŸ™‚ I did get the feeling when I was reading those stories that there was more there than I was detecting, but I just wasn’t smart enough or wasn’t paying close enough attention to notice it. She does seem to be one of those writers like James Joyce or William Faulkner whom everyone talks about like they’re saints, but when you get down to it, only a small handful of people have actually read their work and an even smaller group than that actually likes it.

        Liked by 1 person

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