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. 😉