The Comforts Of Home by Flannery O’Connor, 1965
The magic trick:
Giving the plot a definite ending but still leaving an air of mystery about things
Today marks the beginning of a month-long run of stories from the American South.
That’s a rich soil from which to draw, but it’s an easy for day one. Flannery O’Connor. There is no competition.
“The Comforts Of Home” has all the hallmarks of her best work – the palpable sense of dread lurking throughout the story, the grotesque characters whose anxieties often verge into comedy, the constant threat of violence, the clash of values, the intense family conflicts.
In this particular story, I most enjoyed the non-specified character motivations. We have three characters here – Thomas, his mother and the incomparable Star Drake – who each are acting very dramatically, making extreme decisions.
Why? What are they trying to protect? What are they hoping to accomplish?
O’Connor is a genius of giving the reader an immense amount of judgment and action, but then withholding motivation. We get plenty of clues (sex and Freud loom large), but nothing is definite; nothing is assigned.
The effect is a fully realized and resolved plot that still retains an air of mystery.
And that’s quite a trick on O’Connor’s part.
His mother’s behavior throughout the meal was so idiotic that he could barely stand to look at her and since he could less stand to look at Sarah Ham, he fixed on the sideboard across the room a continuous gaze of disapproval and disgust. Every remark of the girl’s his mother met as if it deserved serious attention. She advanced several plans for the wholesome use of Star’s spare time. Sarah Ham paid no more attention to this advice than if it came from a parrot. Once when Thomas inadvertently looked in her direction, she winked. As soon as he had swallowed the last spoonful of dessert, he rose and muttered, “I have to go, I have a meeting.”
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