Dinner with a Book: A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Dinner with a Book: A Good Man Is Hard to Find

Friday nights are not what they used to be. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Cross your heart and tell me honestly –  are you sure you want your pre-lockdown Friday nights back? 

I guess that depends on how you spent them. All night bar-hopping can be fun, yes, but how much do you miss waking up to that slap of remorse on Saturday morning?

Going to movies is certainly missed – but thanks to Netflix at least there are options. What I am longing for most, though, what I’ve truly got an appetite for, is dinner somewhere nice. Flickering candles, starched napkins, the background buzz of fellow diners. I miss the leisurely perusing of a menu, now replaced with the wearied scanning of instructions on yet another supermarket deal.

Guess what – those dinner places miss us too; and more than that – they need our support as they struggle to stay afloat. The once guilty ritual of a takeaway has become a good deed! Tap in to those karma points and order something local. 

What ‘Dinner with a Book’ will do is provide you with a delicious theme and good company. ‘Company’? I hear you ask. 

But no, we won’t accompany you ourselves, and we won’t suggest you break the rules with illicit meet-ups. For what is better company than a good book? 

Let’s start this Lunar year with a new routine: stop by your library, get the book, then pick up that takeaway. Come home, set up the solo dinnertable of your dreams, and live your Fridays anew.

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Flannery O’Connor  – A Good Man is Hard to Find

Who wouldn’t agree with the title of this short story – a good man is hard to find indeed – and so is good company for dinner! But you’ve left it to us, and we made sure to bring something scrumptious to the table.

Flannery O’Connor was born in Georgia. She wrote novels, award-winning short stories, and non-fiction. She died of lupus at the terribly young age of 39. Her name (cut short from Mary Flannery O’Connor in 1945, as it reminded her of ‘an Irish washwoman’, but possibly also in an attempt to conceal her gender at times where it put barriers to publication) continued spreading as readers were drawn to her progressive writing, exploring issues that are still relevant today. The subsequent publications of her  letters famously caused controversy, but provided real insight too. Paul Elie’s article for The New Yorker explores the different approaches she took to race in her fiction and personal life, and shines the light on demons she was well aware of.

The short story ‘A Good Man Is Hard to Find’ (published in 1953) is about a bickering family that sets out on a road trip in the American South. There’s a jaw-clenched father, a ‘broad and innocent as a cabbage’ mother, two kids – John Wesley and June Star, both rude and annoying, an infant and a grandmother, the focal character in the story. Grandmother is a proper lady with a doctorate in the art of manipulation who does not hesitate to use it shamelessly against her family. Tommy Lee Jones cleverly called her ‘a wolf dressed up as grandma’ in ‘Flannery’ (a PBS documentary about the author’s life). Cunning Grandma tries to use a news announcement that ‘The Misfit’, a ruthless murderer, escaped from prison and is heading someway to Florida, to convince the family to change the trip destination to Tennessee. She is ignored.

What unfolds is comic and profound. On the thirty-odd pages of the story we are faced with Grandma’s interpretation of good and evil, which in her mind is closely associated with class and upbringing. She places immense value on material things and how someone is seen by others: she pins ‘a purple spray of cloth violets’ to her lace collar for the trip so that in case of an accident she would be instantly recognised as a lady. She is racist and hypocritical, she deceives and lies, she is the worst nightmare relative you can imagine.

At some point in the trip they stop at a diner after being bombarded for miles with the highway signs saying: ‘TRY RED SAMMY’S FAMOUS BARBECUE. NONE LIKE FAMOUS RED SAMMY’S! RED SAM! THE FAT BOY WITH THE HAPPY LAUGH! A VETERAN! RED SAMMY’S YOUR MAN!’

In the three weeks that I’ve spent in America (most of them in Michigan, involving multiple road trips), I’ve learned to associate diners with burgers and fries (not coffee and pies, as taught by Twin Peaks). So when Red Sammy’s banners appeared on the pages of the book, I knew exactly where my next takeaway was going to be from – Egg Run.

I’m sure that whatever Red Sammy Butts served in his diner was nowhere near as mouth-watering as the New Yolker that I am enjoying now, but the family gets to meet the man himself, who engages in a nostalgic conversation with Grandma about how good and proper things used to be, whereas I am handed my food from a safe distance with no more than a curt nod. Different times. 

As they finish off their meal and get back on the road, the story takes a grand turn towards encountering The Misfit, with a confrontation of good and evil between him and Grandma, and let’s just say it’s not clear which one of them is destined for hell.

Without giving the rest of the plot away, I want to say that after polishing off your burger and fries (suggested variations: bbq ribs, hot dogs, or maybe even a peanut butter sandwich, just like the one Grandma consumes in the car) probably in time with reading the last page of this story – there would be plenty of ideas served to keep your mind chewing.

‘Dinner with a Book’ is a new Londnr feature created & written by book blogger, Yelena from Foliovore.

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