Friday, January 30, 2015

Book Review: Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor

Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O'Connor

Everything That Rises Must Converge is a set of short stories published after the death of Flannery O'Connor's death in 1964. At face value, characters in her stories are hard to sympathize with. If the main character isn't a know-it-all, he or she is holier-than-thou. Often, characters (main or minor) are a mixture of the two. They think of themselves as pleasant and well-mannered but their preening is hardly justified. Delusions of goodness are often supported by daydreams that reinforce their egotistical world view. The stories end with a comeuppance or a moment of shocking self-awareness for the main character.

Most of the stories are set in the rural south of the United States. The conflicts arise from the intersection of the richer and the poorer, the educated and the uneducated, Christian and atheist, Caucasian American and African American. Both sides of the conflict have their weaknesses and errors that are invisible to them because of their self-assurance. The writing is even-handed if a bit pessimistic. Resolution comes at least with harsh words but more often with harsh violence.

The bittersweetness of the stories' endings is amazing to me. They show a moment where the character's ego is broken and he or she is opened to the truth about themselves and the world around them. Conversion of heart or mind, so necessary for these damaged people, is suddenly possible. Whether they embrace that moment of grace or not varies. But it is always fascinating.

The stories are a bit unpleasant but they are so well written and give so much food for thought, they are definitely worth reading.

Check out more commentary from A Good Story is Hard to Find Podcast, which is publishing its hundredth episode today! Congratulations!!

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