The Life You Save Could Be Your Own by Flannery O’Connor

Confession time. I have a deep (and possibly unhealthy) love for Flannery O’Connor. As in, for a long stretch in my early twenties, she was my go-to Halloween costume. Yes, indeed. And no, explaining you are Flannery O’Connor at college parties is not a good way to meet people. Though it is a good way to figure out who all the writers in a room are. So actually, that was probably a win for me.

When most people hear the name Flannery O’Connor, they likely think of A Good Man is Hard To Find, which is probably her most famous and most read short story. I personally think of Good Country People, which is about a door-to-door Bible salesman and a girl with one leg. But I’m actually going to talk today about The Life You Save Could Be Your Own. I think it is the most Flannery O’Connor-esque story ever written. I could be wrong, but in my mind, The Life You Save Could Be Your Own is the most undistilled, humorous version of O’Connor’s world view and the least apologetic. It’s Southern Gothic as fuck, you might say.

As is common in much of O’Connor’s work, The Life You Save Could Be Your Own has three archetypal characters: a criminal, a victim, and a loud-mouth. In this case, the victim is played by Lucynell, an adult women with a severe development disorder. Which is perhaps what makes the story so awful. Lucynell, being deaf, non-verbal, and lacking some life skills, has no hope to defend herself from her loud-mouth mother or her accomplice in destruction, Mr. Shiftlet.

The joy in this story comes from waiting for the inevitable. It’s impossible to not know what’s coming at the end before you reach the end of page three. It’s a train wreck, and you know it’s a train wreck, but you keep reading because, by golly, you want to know exactly how that wreck is going to play out. By the time you get to the end, you are satisfied with being right and you go on with your day. But you keep thinking about it. And then you realize why the title is so brilliant.

I would venture The Life You Save Could Be Your Own is a Flannery O’Connor story with a legitimate happy ending. Even though an awful thing is perpetrated, every single character ends up in a better position than they started. Even the victim, poor Lucynell, comes out ahead.

The Life You Save Could Be Your Own was originally printed in Flannery O’Connor’s collection A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories. It also appears in The Complete Stories.

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