Book: Everything That Rises Must Converge
Author: Flannery O’Connor
Published: 1956 (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux)
Pro tip: don’t read Flannery O’Connor to cheer yourself up. I might’ve mentioned that before, but it’s a damn good thing to remember. This book has nine stories; body count = 10. Only one of which is of natural causes.
Don’t go thinking you’ll need a hankie to mop up all the melodrama, though, because it’s the opposite. She writes so matter-of-factly in such deftly tuned dialects that backwoods psychopaths sound like the normal, sane majority of the world and then you creep yourself out when you realize you’re nodding along to the reasons a jealous grandpa is beating his granddaughter. (For being pure Pitts, of course, just like the no-good daddy who leads her into the woods with angry scowls and his belt while she claims she never let anybody beat her in her life.)
“Parker’s Back” was my favorite, about this tattooed guy who’s been careful to keep his back clear until one day he doesn’t know how to make up with his super-religious wife (or even why he wants to make up with her in the first place) so he gets Jesus tattooed on his one clean space and she hates it and calls him a blasphemer and the last scene is her watching him have a breakdown under their yew tree.
“Everything That Rises Must Converge” is good, too, a neat little dissection of ironic hatred twisting in on itself as a son takes great glee in watching his prejudice mother discover that she’s wearing the same hat as a black lady while they’re riding the bus (to the mother’s “reducing” class at the Y, which isn’t super important but is a detail I love). He takes way too much pleasure in watching her squirm and trying to strike up friendships with black people on the bus and then gets to watch her collapse of a heart attack when they get off.
Each story is creepy in its own take on the theme of the quiet horror and ugliness that runs through people and how believably and easily it fits into their lives. Bookshelf, of course. O’Connor is one of my writing role models in that she writes incredibly simply to make complex emotions clear without pulling any of their power.