Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (1952)

We are officially moved into our new house, and although I now have 10,000 new things to occupy my time, I'm finally getting back into my regular reading schedule. And just in time too, since my book club (go DAFFODILS!) is meeting next weekend to discuss Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (1952).

My copy of Wise Blood is bound together with A Good Man is Hard to Find and The Violent Bear it Away in the conveniently titled 3 by Flannery O'Connor, but since the books were originally published separately, I've decided to give each one its own blog post.

Wise Blood is the story of Hazel Motes, a dissatisfied and theologically conflicted young veteran who returns from the war to Tennessee to find his whole family gone. He defects to the melodiously named Taulkinham where he runs into the 18-year-old and gregariously frantic Enoch Emery who basically is so excited to find someone else who will talk to him (or at least let him talk) that he can't leave Hazel alone.

While Enoch is following Hazel around, Hazel starts following a blind preacher named Asa Hawks and his daughter Sabbath. Asa's religious message makes Hazel itch to spread his message of atheism, and he begins to hold forth on street corners about the Church Without Christ. And while Enoch's obsession with Hazel increases, so does Hazel's obsession with Asa. Things come to a head after the involvement of a man in an ape suit, a con man named Hoover Shoats ("He looked like an ex-preacher turned cowboy, or an ex-cowboy turned mortician."), and a car which should get its own novel enter the picture.

I'd read many Flannery O'Connor short stories before, but I'd never read either of her two novels. Wise Blood was her first, partially developed out of her Master's thesis and augmented by altered versions of some of her other stories. Knowing that it grew from a series of shorter pieces helps make the structure of Wise Blood fit together a little better. I really enjoyed this, but I think I tend to like O'Connor's short stories more. Much like when I read her short stories, I felt like I enjoyed this at a level of liking fun names, grotesque people, and Southern themes, but I feel like I only caught about a quarter of her theological intentions. Still, I'd recommend this novel to anyone who likes O'Connor or the other big names of Southern literature.

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