Just finished reading The Violent Bear It Away for the second time. Second time or not, I still felt like having just survived a neuclear bomb.
Flannery does not write from a "golden heart" only, she is a superb craftsman, with a "lean and mean" bent for language and keen eye on pattern.
The story has an unmistaken structural symmetry with violence, physical and spiritual, at its core. It begins and ends with a death, a grave, a drunken 14-year-old boy, a fire, a woodthrush called in the same four formal notes, only to "make silence" in the beginning, but grieved against it in the ending... One can pick out many of such motifs throughout the story and realize the pattern that has made the story, the work, the thing, through wich she devoted to the Endower of her genius.
She makes what ought to disgust, disgusting; what ought to infuriate, infuriating. Hers is an incarnational art. Ideas are only generated through the concrete. Understanding this respect for the concrete is essential to understanding the Catholicity of her stories.
I am at the same time reading James Joyce's Dubliners, a collection of short stories before he went incoherent. I read the last of the collection, The Dead, in a college course and was blown away by the man's wizerdry of painting by words. The Catholic Joyce knows the sovereign power of the concrete, and commands it with grace. In these early stories you already sense the dread and irony which would become unbearably aloof and detached. You dread with the characters but have a hard time being aloof with the author, not when you know there's a Flannery O'Connor. At the end of each story, I'm always happy that it has ended. No lingering bomb effect.
As Forrest Gump says, that's all I have to say.