“A Good Man is Hard to Find” was my first introduction to the work of Flannery O’Connor, and short fiction in general. It really packs a wallop. Black comedy, serial killers, social critique and, ultimately metaphysical transcendence are all in this brief story. Her fiction is dense and multi-layered. There is more going on in them than entire novels. Of all of the writers of the Southern Gothic school, her work is the one that endures the most with me.
It’s not just her acerbic wit or her finely drawn characters or her unmistakable sense-of-place. I think it’s because her fiction is tinged with a singular world-view that is just a wee bit over the edge. The subtext of her work is about Faith, particularly, the concept of the Lord’s Grace. But O’Connor’s Lord is not your grandmother’s Lord. In her cosmology, G-d dwells in the darkest corner of the soul, and that is where He does his work.
Many of O’Connor’s characters are terrible human beings. Openly racist, violence-prone, death obsessed, and narrow-minded. Though she was a devout Catholic, there is a streak of Gnostic theology in her work. Her characters worship the false God (the Demiurge), who created this flawed world (in her work, race relations simmer beneath the surface). The face (and Grace) of the true God is revealed to her grotesque characters in shocking ways.
I’m agnostic at best, but O’Connor’s fiction makes Christianity full of dark beauty and mystery.