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Happy birthday Flannery O'Connor: 5 of her best short stories

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On what would have been her 94th birthday, today marks a day to acknowledge Mary Flannery O’Connor as one of the top short story writers of the twentieth century.

O’Connor was a Georgian novelist and essayist, but it was her short stories that brought her to such critical acclaim throughout both her lifetime and posthumously, with high praise for her sardonic writing style and dramatic plot lines.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

 

Usually set in the South and focusing on morally flawed characters, O’Connor often also reflected her Roman Catholic faith in her writing. Her short story collection, Complete Stories, won the 1972 U.S. National Book Award for Fiction, published after her long battle with lupus and early death aged 39.

Her 32 published stories are probably not for everyone, with their bleak undertones and, more often than not, seeming to include violence and deaths. That said, her writing talent is undeniable. If she is a writer which you have not had much exposure to before, here are five of her best stories to get you started…

 

1. A Good Man is Hard to Find

Perhaps her most well-known out of all her published work, this story focuses on a family on a road trip to East Tennessee with disastrous consequences. It centres around varying moral codes, although its ending and most prominent theme is controversial amongst critics.

 

2. Good Country People

Another critic and fan favourite, “Good Country People” features a travelling Bible salesman that is invited for dinner at a farm where the one-legged woman is an atheist. This transgresses very bizarrely in a way that it is quite impossible to prepare you for without spoiling it completely.

 

3. Revelation

Published in O’Connor’s short story collection, Everything That Rises Must Converge, which she finished during her final battle with lupus and was published after her death, “Revelation” has religious themes, as implied by the title. It is set in a doctor’s waiting room and focuses on a very judgemental and racist older woman who believes she is superior to everyone.

 

4. The Displaced Person

A slightly longer choice than the rest, “The Displaced Person” takes place on a farm in Georgia just after the Second World War. A Polish refugee (hence ‘displaced’) comes to work on the farm and turns out to be a very good worker, much to the dismay of the Shortley’s who already work on the farm. This ends in typical O’Connor fashion, of course.

 

5. The Barber

This is lesser known and acknowledged than the rest, being one of her earlier works. It focuses on a professor explaining his liberal political views and trying to convince people to vote for a progressive candidate, with very little success.

 

Complete Stories is available from Waterstones here.




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