A blog by the staff of the Thomas Ford Memorial Library
Saturday Shorts Week 33
Welcome to our weekend series for 2014. Every Saturday this year one of our staff will suggest a favorite short story from the library’s collection, all of them a great choice for quick weekend reading.
There was a period right after I graduated from college that I held up Flannery O’Connor as my favorite short story writer. There were not many stories, as she had already tragically died from lupus, so there was a certain appealing rarity to her collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. At about that same time, her letters to friends were published in the acclaimed The Art of Being, which I read cover to cover. Though her stories and short novels were dark and troubling, I read every one.
Many years later, I usually like lighter reading, but I still find O’Connor’s finely crafted dark stories riveting, and first among them is “The River.” In this story which can be read in half an hour, unless you want to slow down and savor the descriptions, the son of an agnostic young couple, who could be labelled “party people,” is entrusted for the day to the care of a very evangelically religious woman. Being a sort of sponge, the boy absorbs everything he sees and even tries to take on a new name. After reading an old Christian book to the boy, the woman takes him to a baptism service in the red mud of the local river. At the end of the day, the parents react as readers might expect less-than-attentive parents who suddenly feel criticized would react. What the boy does, however, is totally unexpected. I think “The River” has one of the most stunning endings in the Southern literature.
At Thomas Ford, you can find the “The River” in either Collected Works or The Complete Stories, both collections by Flannery O’Connor. Use it as a door to the hard-edged, tragic world of the American South of the 1950s. – Review by Rick