From that, you may think that these stories aren't any good, but you'd be [mostly] wrong. Admittedly, there are a few that had me thinking that one of us (either Flannery or I) was off her rocker, but for the most part these stories are all very entertaining. The problem is, they are rather dark and a bit heavy. Even the humor is dark. Reading very many stories in a row is like being smacked up-side the head with a heavy dose of hopelessness. Still, there are many more gems than duds, proving O'Connor a true champion of short stories.
Most of her characters have major issues regarding prejudice, religion, and pride. It would take some serious work to catalog the number of slack-jawed, dull-eyed folk between these covers. If you're looking for something pure, pretty, and politically correct, these stories won't suit. If you're looking for a sharp eye and witty cynicism, however, look no further.
So. Maybe I don't recommend reading straight through this collection. But I do recommend experiencing some of her writing, and there are some fabulous options here. Generally speaking, I enjoyed the stories from A Good Man is Hard to Find more than the others, but there is much to enjoy throughout. Here are some stories that were highlights for me:
A Stroke of Good Fortune
"Standing up straight, she was a short woman, shaped nearly like a funeral urn."
Instead of pitting two people against each other to illuminate their faults, this story allows the main character Ruby Hill to do it all herself in the span of time it takes her to walk up the stairs to her apartment. Ruby's particular plight is unique in that she mixes pride with a dose of hypochondria. (I've just discovered that this story later grew into her first novel, Wise Blood, so I've got more Flannery on my list.) The reader quickly ascertains Ruby's true condition, making all of her thoughts and complaints all the more entertaining. At a mere 13 pages, this story is well worth the ride.
A Good Man is Hard to Find
"The grandmother was curled up under the dashboard, hoping she was injured so that Bailey's wrath would not come down on her all at once."
I love this story. Even though the ending is absolutely horrid, it is a delight to read. The characters are so vivid (but then, that is to be expected with Flannery) and the dialogue lively. Have you ever taken a road trip with a grandmother and a cat in the vehicle? Not the most peaceful of moments. Even if you've wisely avoided such a catastrophe (terrible pun, my apologies) there's something enjoyable about seeing someone else experience it. If you want to experience a gritty story with distinct Southern character, this story is a standout.
The Lame Shall Enter First
"Grudgingly, Sheppard felt a slight return of sympathy for the boy."
What is good? What is bad? How well do you understand the motivations and thoughts of those around you? How well do you understand your own motivations? This story does more than illuminate the faults and prejudices of its characters and show the difference between people in different walks of life. It goes a little deeper--into those times when we deceive ourselves, convinced we are operating for the greater good and doing more harm in the process. Some interesting thoughts to consider.
Good Country People
"The reason for her keeping them so long was that they were not trash. They were good country people."
Like in many of her stories, this one contrasts two kinds of people, and the one that is supposed to be "better" ends up looking rather foolish. Of course, there are no "good" characters and "bad" characters, there are only human beings that have faults, whether they believe it or not. This story was a nice change of pace from some of the others because the ending wasn't as quick and drastic. If you're feeling timid about diving into Flannery O'Connor's stories and are looking for something a little more mild, this is your story.