Everything That Rises Must Converge, by Flannery O’Connor
In reading these stories I am reminded that O’Connor was a vastly better author of short stories tan I have given her credit for. Sometimes at least in my own mind I have slotted her with that lamentable tendency among many modern authors of writing about moral misfits and glorifying the dysfunctionality of the contemporary world. Yet while it is true that the author does spend a lot of time in her writings–indeed in nearly all of the stories here–in wallowing in the darkness of human sin and futility, she does so with a sharp eye towards the possibility of redemption and an unsentimental look at the hostility that many people who would consider themselves decent and modern people have towards the unpalatable truths of Scripture and divine revelation. If O’Connor’s Southern world is not as Christian as it fancies itself to be, it is certainly a Christ-haunted world, and that is enough to give these stories a surprising amount of bite to them, and to allow the reader to recognize the writer’s use of deeply flawed and imperfect protagonists as a way of pointing out that there are worse evils than the ones that tend to make younger people cringe at the sins of the older generation, for example.
A variety of stories are included in this particular volume of a bit more than 250 pages. “Everything That Rises Must Converge” shows the troubled relationship between a lazy son and the mother he is embarrassed of. “Greenleaf” gives a dark fable about the tension between class and wealth in the South as well as a dark fable about a troublesome bull. “A View Of The Woods” gives a chilling portrayal of a successful Southern businessman. “The Enduring Chill” looks at the oddity of divine providence as a young man faces a premature death. “The Comforts Of Home” examines the hostility caused by a misguided attempt to adopt a member of the criminal class. “The Lame Shall Enter First” looks at the disastrous consequences of the attempt on the part of an antireligious man to adopt a religious orphan. “Revelation” gives an odd tale of redemption and salvation. “Parker’s Back” looks at a misguided attempt on the part of a man to impress a woman he cares for. “Judgment Day” gives a chilling tale of premonition and violence. Many of the stories show humanity at its worst and include a fair amount of Southern dialect.
The title of this particular book appears more than a bit grimly sardonic in light of the material of the stories, which frequently feature death and the reality of children simply not living up to the hopes and expectations of previous generations. One can read in these particular stories a similar sort of concern for social decline and the tensions between class and wealth that were dealt with by Faulkner in his own literature, demonstrating at least some general trends within the greats of Southern regional writing. The stories can be profitably read all at one time or separately, and give the reader a lot to reflect about, not least when one considers the frailty and short life of the author herself, who was afflicted with lupus and died as her father had died prematurely due to the complications of the disease. It is hard to picture some of the young people, particularly the dying young writer whose family disrespects his passion for art in “The Enduring Chill,” without thinking of the author and her own life. Likewise, the author reminds us, and we need reminding, that there are many sins worse than the racism which seems to be what others view as the characteristic and worst sin of the South as a region, and that is a necessary reminder for us.