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”?

 

More from Beliefnet and our partners
previous posts

Friend and author Amy Simpson, whose forthcoming book Blessed Are the Unsatisfied hits book shelves in February 2018, is also a coach and thought leader on issues related to mental health. Amy recently invited me to share some reflections in a guest post for her blog. Explore these “3 Tips for Coping With Today’s Biggest […]

This past week an overwhelming majority of America’s Christians went to the polls to vote in a candidate whose campaign targeted women, Muslims, minorities and people with disabilities as scapegoats, and whose televised rallies brimmed with hate language and bullying antics that until now my children had thought were not allowed on the playground (but […]

This evening a whole gaggle of Canadian geese were crossing the last 200 yards of narrow road leading to the monastery retreat house. As usual I’d been in a hurry and was running late to catch dinner and a room key… The geese stopped me. Like mini orange flippers shuffling off to the local pool […]

On the heels of last week’s heartbreaking events nationwide — in Baton Rouge, Minneapolis and Dallas —I’ve been reading philosopher and novelist Rebecca Newberger Goldstein’s book, Plato at the Googleplex: Why Plato Won’t Go Away. The question that preoccupied the ancient Greeks, Goldstein observes, is one that preoccupies us today, too — and maybe most […]