Flannery O’Connor, “A Stroke of Good Fortune” (1953)

a stroke of good fortune flannery o'connor  Stuyvesant Flats, 1935. (NYPL)

Stuyvesant Flats, 1935. (NYPL)

Think of Nicholson Baker’s “Mezzanine” but in 10 pages, and the elevator replaced by many flights of stairs Ruby, a 34-year-old pregnant with complaints, is struggling to climb. She’s tired, she must rest, she speaks with tenants along the way, she fantasizes about moving elsewhere, she complains about her brother, gone to the army two years and back, unchanged–she complains about everyone–and she denies to herself that she could possibly be pregnant (“Bill Hill’s been taking care of that for five years,” she says of her husband’s presumed condoms), though her fortune teller recently told her that she would have a stroke of good fortune. She thinks it’s the chance to move. It’s really her pregnancy. She doesn’t want babies. “And there her two sisters were, both married four years with two children apiece. She didn’t see how they stood it, always going to the doctor to be jabbed at with instruments.” But her specialty is the put-down of everyone but herself. There’s humor along the way, but not enough to let the story take flight as “The Mezzanine” does: it takes itself more seriously than it pretends not to.

Shenandoah, Spring 1953