As my time at Andalusia draws to a close, I can’t help but think back to how I first encountered Flannery O’Connor and her writing. But first, a confession: before I moved to Milledgeville to attend Georgia College and State University, I had never heard of Flannery O’Connor. Whether this is a personal failure or a failure of my Writing degree colleagues, who can say? What I can say is that I first heard of her during my first semester at GC. It was an odd time because every mention was slathered with the assumption that she was known. There was no question or hesitation to it; if you are attending Georgia College, of course you know about Flannery O’Connor. Unfortunately, my circumstances that first year gave me precious little time to correct my lack of knowledge. It wasn’t until I took a class on Southern authors that I finally got to read my first O’Connor.
The assigned story was “Good Country People” and I really enjoyed it. There was an intelligence and wittiness behind the work that I rarely encounter, a willingness to mock both “simple, country folks” and the highly educated. The concepts bandied about, the danger of relying on stereotypes and overconfidence, they blended together perfectly into a smart, funny, and bizarre story. People say that your favorite story by an author is often the first one you read, and I think there is some truth to that. To this day, “Good Country People” is the story I recommend for Flannery first-timers. Compared to other stories, it is a gentle introduction with a heavy dose of patented Flannery strangeness. I mean, how many stories end with a bible salesman running off with a woman’s prosthetic leg? If the reader likes it, then I will recommend the second story I read, “A Good Man Is Hard To Find.”
If Good Country People is the shallow end of a pool, then “A Good Man Is Hard To Find” must surely be the deep end when the lifeguard is on break. A Good Man is perhaps Flannery’s most famous story, and for good reason. It features sly humor, rich character, blatant racism (on the part of the characters), and extreme violence. Even to this day, it is considered shockingly violent and dark. I remember sitting in my room with The Complete Stories clutched in my hands thinking “THAT’S how this story ends?! And it was written WHEN?!” I still give people a warning when I recommend it. But, it does have one of my favorite lines from anything I’ve ever read: “She would of been a good woman if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”
My first two Flannery O’Connor stories took me to the extremes of her vision, from a wooden leg theft on a farm to indiscriminate murder in the back woods. These are the stories I recommend to people who ask, specifically in this order. If you can handle them, you can handle Flannery O’Connor’s imagination, and that’s not nothing.