Thursday, May 29, 2014

On Reading Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man is Hard to Find"

If you want to hear O'Connor read the story, click here.

In Flannery O'Connor's “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” the reader is presented with another in a line of aged, pretentious protagonists. These individuals haunt O’Connor’s pages, digging into our souls and presenting us with the awkward reality that arises with generational friction. Yet O’Connor doesn’t mean to poke us with generational divide as much as she seeks to expose the true, haunted nature of southern United States.

In this piece, the grandmother grates on her son and his family. Her grandchildren seemingly detest her, frustrated at her wants and needs, unable to deal with the demands of a fading soul who can no longer exist in a new, more modern world. In fact, as the story’s famous lines state, “‘She would of been a good woman,’ The Misfit said, ‘if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life,’” no person can tolerate her (O’Connor 133). Her star has faded, and despite her efforts to be classy, to set a distinguished example, in the end her life will end at the point of a gun, at the hands of The Misfit, an escaped convict. Exacerbating her demise is that the actions come from her—she forces the family to venture off the beaten path, down a dirt road, and ultimately into their demise.

From the start, her grandchildren John Wesley and June Star mock her, playing on her pride, and attacking her sensibilities. The grandmother is a fossil not unlike Old Dudley from “The Geranium” and thus she strafes against what the world has become, repeatedly butting heads with her son’s children: “‘In my time … children were more respectful of their native states and their parents and everything else” (119). Her time has come and gone, the world has changed, despite her and her regions attempts to the contrary. Thus, she is the type of woman who dresses for the occasion, even if that occasion is a car ride to Florida. So the grandmother must look like a lady, wearing her Sunday best, just in case she encounters her potential death: “In case of an accident, anyone seeing her dead on the highway would know she was a lady” (118). Even from the get go, one knows something is coming for her, something is lurking around the fringes ready to pounce on her and challenge her sensibilities. O’Connor pushes the button when, after lunch, the grandmother takes them on a diversion to see a plantation house that is not there.

The grandmother sends them down a dirt path, a road away from safety and into her past. She recalls an age were pavement didn’t exists, where everything was simpler and close to home: “The grandmother recalled the times when there were no paved roads and thirty miles was a day’s journey” (124). Yet these roads bring danger, and traveling down such a path, the woman realizes she was wrong, the plantation house was not actually where she thought it was. In her internal embarrassment, or in spite of it, she unleashes what will be the family’s fatal blow, a stowaway house cat that springs from within a picnic basket, and in shock, causes the car to wreck, rolling over in the ditch. Victims to the grandmother’s pride, the family rests stranded in a gulch on a rarely traveled Georgia road. Does she admit to her faults and give in? The answer is no.

As hinted at from page one, The Misfit arrives, but he does so in the guise of a menacing savior. What the family views as aid, becomes the truth, people are not always good. In fact some, have no want or reason to be. Later, The Misfit will lecture the grandmother in the spirit of the world, providing her religious instruction that only a cold blooded killer can know and understand. Perhaps he would have ignored the family, maybe just taken their car, but the grandmother calls him out, eschewing common intelligence, and declares that he is The Misfit. In revealing The Misfit’s identity, the grandmother errs once again. In doing so, she dooms her family, bringing the metaphorical predicament she had placed her family in prior, a situation where she was sucking away at the life of her kin, into action. Now they to actually be killed, executed roadside, all over an old woman’s pride and a house that was never there.

While overt, the actions cut down to the bone and haunt the reader, as somebody is there to shoot them the rest of their life.

Favorite Lines:

  • “‘Tennessee is just a hillbilly dumping ground,’ John Wesley said, ‘and Georgia is a lousy state too” (119).
  • “‘A good man is hard to find,’ Red Sammy said. “Everything is getting terrible.’”(122).

Other posts on the The Complete Stories include “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “The Geranium,” “The Barber,” “The Wildcat,” “The Crop,” “The Turkey,” “The Train,” “The Peeler,”“The Heart of the Park,” “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” “Enoch and the Gorilla,” “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” “The River,” “A Circle in the Fire,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find. If the book interests you, please use the link in the first paragraph or click the picture to support my efforts when you purchase the text.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Book Review: Ariana Den Bleyker’s novelette Finger: Knuckle: Palm

Ariana Den Bleyker’s novelette Finger: Knuckle: Palm, available free from LucidPlay Publishing by clicking on the title, organizes itself around bursts of dialogue, interspersed with single line excerpts from The Book of Job. The action centers on what appears to be the interplay between a therapist and a patient during a hypnosis session. That said, the action darts back and forth in the question and answer format, engaging the reader as Den Bleyker leads him through the darkness of psycho-analytic exploration. She wants us to explore, to ponder, and to learn. Focusing on sensation, the protagonist repeatedly describes her senses, but through the filter of the disabled: for whatever reason, each scene strips her of a sense. At one moment she is blind, the next she has lost the ability to touch and feel (even if some of these alterations are self-inflicted). Prone to emotional outburst, she leads us on a journey through her helplessness, a condition further accented by her vulnerable condition.

Thus, the reader explores the caverns of the hypnotized soul’s mind. And this exploration is not for the faint of heart, for as the action builds and the protagonist is confronted with actions she cannot understand, she seeks penance through a maniacal form of self-flagellation: “Pain spreads throughout my body as I grab the scissors with my right hand. I strike my left hand. Blood rises from my hand, runs across the counter and onto the floor. I strike it repeatedly until it severs.” Cutting off a hand is haunting, even if it is only something drumming around in the subconscious. Thus such lines show a talent for suspense. 

Throughout the novelette, the unexpected surfaces, and the reader must endure torment that seems all too real. Yet these such moments evolve, seemingly ignoring the past, and expressing what appears to be a rather lucid, complex series of visions. At one minute the action is in the kitchen, only to transition to the cabin of an airplane to the street to a mirror where she watches her teeth fall out, transitions that come with little effort. Hands are there, gone, and back again. Even under the guise of a dream, the transitions are jarring at times, and while the questioning often redirects the reader, the sense of both time and place is often unclear. And perhaps that mystery, in a piece devoid of setting and exposition, is exactly what Den Bleyker aims for. She seems rooted in the metaphorical, and she therefore leaves a great deal to the imagination.

While the above mentioned transitions help pace the piece and keep the reader interested, at times I felt like I was on the outside looking in. Yes, Den Bleyker’s dialogue enthralls, taking on poetic ideas, and dragging the reader in, but at others the pacing is a bit off, for the conversation is one sided with the hypnotist volleying a never ending stream of short, pointed questions, with lengthy and descriptive responses. While I am not extremely familiar with the style of such sessions, I found myself striving for a traditional therapy session, something to augment the tone and another, deeper dimension. 

Thus, while the narrative progressed, winding itself in increasingly complex circles, I wanted to see a conversation, to see an engagement. While dreams involving the loss of teeth are common, how often is one privy to a therapy session in which the patient is forced to not only discuss the indecent, but then to hear the psychobabble that provides analysis? With that in mind, perhaps hypnosis wasn't the answer (or perhaps I wanted to be fed more information), for the act is too closed off from the traditional conversational medium that one character was left too flat for my liking. When the narrative concludes in a cathartic blast that brings the events full circle, we still lack the answers and the understanding that such an interplay would provide, and while they are not needed per se, one could not help but wonder where they would take us. Either way, Den Blekyer gives one an enjoyable, mystery filled read.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

On Reading Flannery O'Connor's "Enoch and the Gorilla"

“Enoch and the Gorilla” could be titled the continued adventures of Enoch Emery, who O’Connor flushes out to be a rather complete character across the multiple stories he appears in. Enoch’s ignorant innocence is once again on full display, as he waits to meet Gonga the gorilla of Hollywood stardom. The gorilla represents Enoch’s continued desire to observe life’s childish oddities while at the same time attempting to appear stronger and smarter than he actually is: “To his mind, an opportunity to insult a successful ape came from the hand of providence” (O’Connor 109). In confronting the gorilla, he can prove himself brave, strong, and intelligent, and thus he can come across as being truly human. By mocking the beast, he can appear to be better than it: “Enoch had got over his fear and was trying frantically to think of an obscene remark that would be suitable to insult him with” (111).

Thus Enoch waits, surrounded by children, hoping to insult a gorilla. What O’Connor fails to note, what keeps the mystery alive and well here, is whether the gorilla is real, or if the chained creature in a raincoat is a man in a suit. This omission, done so that we can view the world through Enoch’s myopic eyes, keeps the reader going. If it is an animal, one kids will fear touching, what good will Enoch’s insult do? Or if a man, does the situation even change? Enoch, confused and unsure shakes Gonga’s hand, giving the beast his life story before being told to go to go to hell with a sudden and shocking whisper than sends the man fleeing into the rain.

Enoch greets the embarrassment as a chance to get even. Knowing the gorilla to be fake, knowing his desire to be great, Enoch sets out to confront the beast and get even in a way. Enoch wants to make something of himself in the world: “He wanted, some day, to see a line of people waiting to shake his hand” (112). The line, which resonates with Enoch’s inner desires and character, reveals a man tortured to be great but languishing in inadequacy. Yet, the opportunity to reface Gonga, to become Gonga, stands out to Enoch as a capstone moment, one that will leave him forever changed. With these thoughts in mind, Enoch stalks his prey, and steals away as the beast, thinking, that as he ambles about clad in gorilla garb that he has finally become something specially. Yet the truth, the reality of Enoch, is nothing of the sort.

Favorite Lines:

“Enoch was not very fond of children, but children always seemed to like to look at him” (108). Speaks volumes as to his character and how everyone, even the most innocent, sees right through him.

“The gorilla appeared at the door, with the raincoat buttoned up to his chin, collar turned up” (110). The image speaks for itself.

Other posts on the The Complete Stories include “The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” “The Geranium,” “The Barber,” “The Wildcat,” “The Crop,” “The Turkey,” “The Train,” “The Peeler,”“The Heart of the Park,” “A Stroke of Good Fortune,” “Enoch and the Gorilla,” “A Late Encounter with the Enemy,” “The River,” “A Circle in the Fire,” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find. If the book interests you, please use the link in the first paragraph or click the picture to support my efforts when you purchase the text.