A Good Author is Hard to Find

a-good-man-is-hard-to-find1Dear Miss Flannery O’Connor,

This letter is long overdue, but I write today on the happy occasion of your 84th birthday.  I’m sure I’m not alone in expressing my sadness that you couldn’t be here to celebrate with the rest of us down here (seeing as you died in 1964 at the ripe old age of 39).

When I heard that it was your birthday today, it was just the stimulus I needed to finally read your work.  Many friends, mentors, and colleagues badgered me about why I hadn’t yet read your macabre stories.  And I never had a very good answer for them.

Now, I understand what I was missing.

My textbook for next semester has an entire chapter devoted to your work (preview for my Survey of Lit. Students, we’ll be studying O’Connor).  So, I had a great selection of stories for an introduction.

I admire the way you depict flawed characters who discover God’s grace, not because they’ve earned it or deserve it, but because God wills it.  They’re dirty, racist, rotten, sinful characters, a lot like the people we all know, a lot like the people we are. But God reaches out to them, in the midst of their depravity, and extends his incomprehensible grace with often incomprehensibly horrific methods.

Your critics call you gruesome.  In your most famous story, “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” God offers grace through the gun of a notorious murderer and his gang.  But the gore has a purpose, a noble one.  It highlights God’s redemptive power.  It’s what Joseph recognized in Egypt: what others intend for evil, God intends for good (Genesis 50:20).

I’m looking forward to reading more of your work, and I’m sorry it took me so long to write.  These days, I’ve discovered that a good author is hard to find, especially one who loves, and rightly fears, God.

Your Sister in Christ,

Amy Letinsky

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. If you don’t have it already, you must have her collected works. If you don’t I’ll mail you my copy. Honest. 😉

    AL: A very generous offer. I’ve actually just requested it from the library, in addition a very intriguing work of scholarship called Flannery O’Connor and the Christ Haunted South . How’s that for a title? Of course, any suggestions for collections or good biographies would be welcomed. I’m thinking that getting a copy of my own would be nice for writing in, since I plan on making all sorts of marginalia.

  2. The few times I have read here I was depressed for weeks afterwards. Maybe I missed something about the redemptive aspects.

    AL: O’Connor doesn’t seem to have “happy endings.” People die and end up in worse earthly circumstances than they were before. However, they also get some sort of heavenly insight they lacked before through the process. So, in “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the protagonist is murdered. But God uses her murder to soften her prejudiced heart. God gives her the grace to see people from his perspective. It’s only while she stares at a gun, does this revelation hit her. Of course, she dies shortly thereafter, and if you miss that moment, sure, it’s pretty depressing. You’ve got to be willing to look beyond the earthly comforts to recognize the importance of the spiritual reality and insight that’s happening.

  3. Amy, this paragraph is a great summary of O’Connor’s work: “I admire the way you depict flawed characters who discover God’s grace, not because they’ve earned it or deserve it, but because God wills it. They’re dirty, racist, rotten, sinful characters, a lot like the people we all know, a lot like the people we are. But God reaches out to them, in the midst of their depravity, and extends his incomprehensible grace with often incomprehensibly horrific methods.”

    I can’t say I really enjoy reading O’Connor (had one semester of O’Connor and Walker Percy in college), but the way she articulates the human condition, grace and redemption is pretty amazing.

    AL: You know I’m jealous that you got to take that course. But I can see what you mean about having a hard time enjoying reading her work. It’s hard stuff, not that it’s intellectually difficult (which it is, but that’s not what I mean). It’s hard truth to stomach, hard lessons to learn, hard pain to witness. But some of her lines just gave me the chills, they were so insightful. She also has an uncanny ability to depict characters. They feel so real, which probably is part of the reason why it’s so disturbing when she kills them off or puts them through their own form of torture. Now, Percy is another one I need to read some more. I have a couple of his books sitting here, waiting to be read. He isn’t as popular as O’Connor these days.


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