I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.
Most people writing to their favorite authors do not, I’d guess, think they will get an answer back, and perhaps Betty Hester didn’t either. She was not a scholar and she was not a writer, herself. She was a 32-year-old clerk at a credit bureau in Atlanta the first time she wrote to Flannery O’Connor, in the middle of July 1955. Hester read a great deal, and she had been taken by A Good Man is Hard to Find. Hester had been surprised to see that The New Yorker hated the collection — “all we have, in the end, is a series of tales about creatures who collide and drown, or survive to float passively in the isolated sea of the author’s compassion, which accepts them without reflecting anything.”
Hester wrote to O’Connor to object. “These are stories about God, aren’t they?”
There is something in us, as storytellers and as listeners to stories, that demands the redemptive act, that demands that what falls at least be offered the chance to be restored. The reader of today looks for this motion, and rightly so, but what he has forgotten is the cost of it. His sense of evil is so diluted or lacking altogether and so he has forgotten the price of restoration. When he reads a novel, he wants either his senses tormented or his spirits raised. He wants to be transported, instantly, either to a mock damnation or a mock innocence.
In another, labeled “Johnson Photo” and dated from between 1907 to 1918, a woman waiting to be baptized in the water is barely visible through the surrounding, blurry crush of onlookers. Front and center stands a young boy on the riverbank who looks not at the baptism but the camera, as if to remind you that the baptism is about him, too. [The Smart Set: Taking the Plunge - April 5, 2011]
I prefer to talk about the meaning in a story rather than the theme of a story. People talk about the theme of a story as if the theme were like the string that a sack of chicken feed is tied with. They think that if they can pick out the theme, the way you pick the right thread in the chicken-feed sack, you can rip the story open and feed the chickens. But that is not the way meaning works in fiction. When you can state the theme of a story, when you can separate it from the story itself, then you can be sure the story is not a very good one. The meaning of a story has to be embodied in it, has to be made concrete in it. A story is a way to say something that can’t be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate.