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Afterword to “Every Angel is Terrifying” (1998)

“Every Angel” is a sequel to one of the most famous American short stories ever written, in my opinion one of the most perfect stories ever written, Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” If you have not read that story, you should drop everything and go read it. It is an amazing piece of work.

I wondered what might have happened to the Misfit after the end of O’Connor’s story. She herself, in one of her essays, presents a possible future career for him, quite different from the one I give him here—but I quote her briefly in one of Railroad’s mediations about the grandmother and what her final gesture has done to him.

 It took a lot of gall for me to write this story, and I apologize to those who think that I am getting above my station by doing so. I sort of agree with you.   

I gave Railroad the same middle names as J.R.R. Tolkien. Not that he is at all, in any way, like Tolkien—I just liked the irony of that juxtaposition. J.R.R. Tolkien has the same middle initials (but not names) as George R.R. Martin, whose friends at some point in his life have called him “Railroad.”

The title of the story is a quote from a poem by Ranier Maria Rilke, about how a genuine encounter with the divine is not comforting. God is not your nice old grandfather, or a fuzzy teddy bear. 

One detail of “A Good Man is Hard to Find” that always bothered me, and that gave me no end of indecision in my sequel, is that the grandmother’s calico cat is a male. But it was my impression that all calico cats are female. Wikipedia tells me that the only calico male cats are genetic sports with two X chromosomes. I mostly avoided the issue by calling the cat by the name Railroad gives it, but I confess to breaking down and using “her” in a place or two.

All in all, this story makes me nervous about all the manners of presumption on my part that it demonstrates. How would O’Connor feel about the fact that her cool eschatological terror story demonstrating the grace of the unknowable God ended up spawning a sequel that was reprinted in an anthology about magic cats? 

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