(Originally posted on web: 11/21/2012)
“The writer with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural, and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience. …to the hard of hearing you shout and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.” –Flannery O’Connor, The Fiction Writer & His Country
A Good Man is Hard to Find, by Flannery O’Connor, is a horrible story, a terrible story – and also one of the best ever produced by an American author. There’s lots of killing in it and it’s not a good kind of killing. It’s the kind you want to turn your eyes away from because it’s all too real and all too plausible. No one, after reading the story I think, would deny the truth of that statement given the horrors perpetrated every day on this earth. O’Connor was a strong Roman Catholic. Her writing was her Christianity, and she spoke and wrote frequently about the concerns of the Christian writer in her time. Heavenly Grace, the concept and the exploration of it are central to her work. But where is Grace in this story, you wonder?
Recently, I read an interview with Barry Hannah in the Paris Review where he claimed that for three years he thought O’Connor a man, until one day a colleague corrected him. “Her work is so mean. The women are treated so harshly. The misogyny and religion.” And A Good Man is Hard to Find contains one of the most arresting and mean sentences I have ever read anywhere. It comes from the mouth of the character ‘the misfit’ and it is near the very end of the story. I am not going to quote it here as that would castrate it. Those interested will have to read it for themselves.
One marvels at the chance O’Connor took to put the words she did to paper. The entire story, in fact. The words shock the reader, but O’Connor does not do it for the entertainment value as the quote above reveals. In anybody else’s hands this story might have been an abomination. For a lot of people who read it, it is anyway. But O’Connor was so good at what she did, better even than her Southern neighbor Faulkner when it came to short stores, in the end you might just marvel at what she accomplished and thank her for this gift of a ‘large and startling’ story.