Flannery O'Connor only lived to be 39, but in that time she helped give definite shape to a young genre through two novels and two collections of short stories. The genre was Southern Gothic, pioneered by William Faulkner and Thomas Wolfe, and relied on outrageous, disturbing, and often redemptive depictions of the strange characters inhabiting one of our nation's strangest regions.
These Complete Stories include all the short stories from her published collections (A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Everything That Rises Must Converge), as well as twelve previously unpublished works. The stories run the gamut, from outright bizarre and extremely uncomfortable, to almost sublime, to religiously radiant.
The religious element is probably the most striking aspect of all of O'Connor's writing. A devout Catholic, her Christian faith finds often jarring expression in her vivid depictions of human salvation. Stories like "Greenleaf," "The Comforts of Home," and "Judgment Day" are unrelenting in their violence, claustrophobia, and general malaise; lesser-known offerings like "A Circle in the Fire" and "The Displaced Person" are even more unsettling.
How is all this darkness, gloom, and physical anguish in any way reflective of Christian salvation? O'Connor knew (perhaps more than any other fiction writer in the 20th century) that the human condition is one of despair, misery, and evil, just as she knew that only divine intervention is capable of saving us from those things and from ourselves.
There are never neat, tidy endings in O'Connor's stories. They don't always end badly, or in death, but they never end "happily ever after," as though salvation is somehow a certificate freeing the holder from earthly pain. God saves; but men and women (and, as often as not in O'Connor, children) must endure the curse of Adam, as well as the consequences of their own wrongdoing.
Few writers in any century (let alone the last one) have been able to wed a truly Christian perspective with a genuinely beautiful style as flawlessly or consistently as O'Connor. These stories, despite their dark and disturbing content, are some of the most joyous literary experiences you're likely to encounter.