ADVANTAGES

When her control is less certain, as in "A Stroke of Good Fortune" (1949) or "A Late Encounter with the Enemy" (1953), such an approach can seem a gimmick, calamity arriving like the punchline to a poor joke. Failures like this explain why some critics consider O'Connor's art brilliant but narrow and predictable. But such instances are in the minority, and the late stories "Revelation" (1964) and "Parker's Back" (1965), suggest her talent was only deepening as her life ended. It's tempting to wonder what she might have done with more time, not least to see how the "Christ-haunted" South of her fiction would have been altered by the Civil Rights Act, passed a month before she died. Her position on race was ambivalent, but I tend to agree with Hilton Als that she was "not romantic enough to take Faulkner's Disney view of blacks – as the fulcrum of integrity and compassion. She didn't use them as vessels of sympathy or scorn; she simply – and complexly – drew from life". That same collision of the simple and the complex is what lies at the heart of her best work, a tight compact of the bold, the startling, and the mysterious.

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