This week I’m making my way through Flannery O’Connor’s book of short stories Everything That Rises Must Converge. (The book’s title comes from the first story that appears in this series of O’Connor’s stories.)
Three stories in, I’m struck by a common crescendo that describes O’Connor’s stories: her characters seem in some ways hopelessly and depressingly damned to their own self-constructed prisons of prejudice, self-righteousness and self-absorption— until the very end of the story, when in one final, startling, apocalyptic moment, some life-changing revelation hits them just as they meet their death.
“I desire the things which will destroy me in the end,” another author, Sylvia Plath, wrote, and maybe the same could be said of O’Connor’s characters, too. They seem only really to begin seeing life in living colors—the kind of rich, vivid hues that will set them free—upon tasting death. But then it’s too late, at least for this life, for such discoveries to matter. Someone once called this common form of plot resolution in O’Connor’s stories “mean grace,” and I’m inclined to agree the reference is apropos.
But it remains hard to say in these stories whether the characters’ discoveries, however painful or lethal they may be, actually constitute grace—and maybe this ambiguity is intentional. Maybe O’Connor leaves the reader to discern for herself whether there is in fact grace to be found in the final dissolution of these seemingly hopeless but all-too-real characters.
What do you think? Have you read O’Connor’s stories? Do you have a favorite and why? And would you agree with the assessment that her story lines often end with “mean grace”?