Often, folks who visit us here at the farm haven’t read very much of Flannery’s fiction. That’s perfectly fine, of course; we’ll make them new fans before they leave, ideally. After looking through the house, I’ll send them off to the porch with one of our reading copies of the collected stories. Some just pick the first story in the volume; others ask me to narrow things down a bit. What follows here are the ones I tell folks to read on their visit, because farm life figures so prominently in them. I’ll limit myself to four, though I’m sure my readers will wish to add more.
1. Good Country People
Readers can easily chalk the presence of this story on my list to setting alone. One can see very easily Mrs. Hopewell and Mrs. Freeman undertaking their daily duties in the farmhouse. But the conclusion of the story widens its scope not just to the hayloft, but to the rest of the farm as seen from the hayloft. The rendezvous of Manley Pointer and Joy-Hulga isn’t merely that once the narrator tells us that she “seldom paid any close attention to her surroundings.” Hulga is in what Flannery calls in one of her letters “the darkness of the familiar,” and only his charlatan ways can bring some light to her larger problems. Manley may only be a few dozen yards away as he climbs down from the hayloft and departs through the woods, but he could just as easily be a world away from Joy-Hulga’s perspective. Like our hypothetical visitor, Hulga may be truly seeing the barn, and the rest of the farm, for the first time.
Though this story begins in town, Ruby Turpin doesn’t realize what’s happened to her in that doctor’s office until she gets back home and the business of the farm is compelled to continue. Her duties become a rage-inducing existential crisis, and a barn is the site of her struggle. Her answers lie in a vision in which the setting sun illuminates the march into the kingdom of Heaven. For me, that sunset is the most memorable in the stories, and the one that comes to mind when I am on duty for special events and extended hours.
3. The Displaced Person
In that this story concerns itself with the financial side of running a farm, the perspective offered my Mrs. McIntyre is a fairly unique one among the stories. The pastures and barns at the farm all have their McIntyres and Shortleys and Guizacs populating them in my mind’s eye. Indeed, even the tools scattered about the farm bring me back to “The Displaced Person”; I have a difficult time not visualizing the end of this story when I go to the equipment shed and see the tractor. So too, having seen the quite good film adaptation shot at the farm, I am hard-pressed to find any physical location in the written story and not be transported to that place at the farm.
4. Parker’s Back
This story always ranks highly when people ask me about Flannery’s humor; the slapstick comedy of the title character’s being beaten across the new tattoo with a broom is for me one of her funniest scenes. Parker may be the most complex of Flannery’s farmhands; landowners and their children are her usual protagonists, after all. He may even be too complex for his own good. Coming to terms with himself and his life, Parker starts his healing process resting against a tree as the morning sun first comes over the treeline. Oddly enough, Parker’s situation at the end of the story is like that of our most frequent visitors. Parker’s turnaround begins with quiet reflection out of doors, and I can’t help but believe that he’s going to be better off for having stopped a moment by a tree and having done a little thinking before the day’s business began in earnest.
While these represent my choices for first impressions-reading at the farm, I enjoy most of all when a visitor tells me of a story that they’ve recently read that spurs me onto revisiting works I’d not interacted with for a while. Our guests keep Andalusia new and exciting for me and the other staff members, and your next visit will no doubt bring some letter or story out of the darkness of the familiar. See you soon!
Daniel Wilkinson is a Visitor Services Assistant, Blogmaster General, and Bon Vivant at Andalusia Farm. When not discussing literary and historical matters at the farm, he can be found doing largely the same at Georgia's Old Capital Museum and the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House.