Flannery O’Connor’s Stories and Chocolate Milkshakes

“Know the truth,” the boy said with his fiercest look, “and the truth shall make you free.” – ‘The Partridge Festival’

For a long time I thought Flannery O’Connor was a man and lumped her in a drawer of my mind containing Brian Nolan and substances vaguely resembling French desserts. I even visited the town of Savannah in Georgia, her birthplace, without realising who she was.

It was through a friend that I was properly introduced to O’Connor’s work. I began by reading a collection of her letters whose candid humour and subtlety did little to betray the fact that their author was suffering from a disease called Lupus from which she died in 1964 at the age 39.

Reading an author’s correspondence before their fiction was a first for me. I was struck by her sensitive perception of the rural southern environment which she inhabited and her fervent belief in the Roman Catholic faith. I looked forward to reading her stories, a copy of which I stumbled upon at home and hadn’t realised I owned. If this isn’t fate I don’t know what is.

O’Connor’s stories are of a genre called Southern Gothic. She writes about people on the fringes of American society, many of whom have grotesque characteristics. By force of circumstance and often through an act of violence, they become acquainted with God’s grace.

O’Connor’s stories are detailed, interesting and darkly humorous. They are densely layered and if I hadn’t read her letters beforehand I wouldn’t have understood as much about them. It took some time to read through the collection because of the intensity of the narratives and their multiple meanings. However, the decadently sweet $5 chocolate shakes I consumed at Ruby’s Diner in Exeter aided the process and I ain’t never had a milkshake so good.

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