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Wise blood by Flannery O'Connor

Wise blood (original 1952; edition 1962)

by Flannery O'Connor (Author)

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2,907832,989 (3.85)214
Title:Wise blood
Authors:Flannery O'Connor (Author)
Info:Farrar, Straus and Cudahy (1962), Edition: 2nd, 232 pages
Collections:Read but unowned

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Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (1952)


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I picked up a novel by Flannery O’Connor because a friend of mine, whose opinion I respect, recommended her to me. He warned me that her themes tended to be a bit dark. He was right but he understated it a bit. Wise Blood is dark, dark, dark.

O’Connor, who was a Catholic, was known for writing trenchantly about evangelical protestants. Wise Blood is such a book. Set somewhere in the deep South, it is the story of Hazel Motes, a barely literate, ne’er-do-well, itinerate preacher who wants to found his own religion, "The Church Without Christ." The fact that Motes probably doesn’t even know what the word “seminary” means is not much of a disadvantage to becoming a preacher in the mid 20th Century South.

Motes is something of a nihilist with no particular religious beliefs other than the conviction that truth consists of the denial of established religions. Ultimately, he loses even the desire to see any truth at all, and is not apt to recognize it if he did. Hazel Motes is oblivious to the "mote" in his own eyes (Matthew 7.3).

The efforts of this conflicted soul to become something significant are pitiable, but hard to forget. He begins his career by purchasing an old wreck of a car, parking just outside movie theaters, standing on the car, and preaching to the crowds as they leave the theaters. He has little or no success in winning converts, but notices that another preacher, who happens to be blind, attracts more attention than he does. The other preacher’s blindness turns out to be phony, but Motes' response to him and his comparative success has significant and severe consequences.

There’s more to the story than I have outlined here, but I would hate to ruin the reader’s “fun” in pursuing the novel to its end.

Discussion: O’Connor’s tale is as much a description of the small town rural South as a character study. In that respect, she reminds me of William Faulkner. Indeed, her depiction of rural southern accents is as good, if not better, than Faulkner’s. On the other hand, her diction and syntax are terse and simple, nothing like Faulkner’s often orotund and obscure style.

Evaluation: Wise Blood is crisply written and carefully constructed, but don’t expect to feel uplifted when you finish it. It’s hard to find an empathetic character in the bunch. There’s evil, suffering, and hucksterism, but not much grace.

(JAB) ( )
  nbmars | Oct 25, 2018 |
Awesome. ( )
  Stubb | Aug 28, 2018 |
Reading O'Connor is really not for the faint of heart. It is something akin to a spiritual experience where afterwards you're a bit shaken and overwhelmed, perhaps even nauseous by the inexplicability and futility of it all. There was something revelatory in the experience, like being completely enveloped in a fog, simultaneously comforting and disorienting, and almost impossible to explain or understand the appeal unless you experience it yourself. Wise Blood is one book that I definitely have to reread in the future.

Aside: must read O'Connor's letter collection The Habit of Being because I'm absolutely fascinated by Hazel Elizabeth Hester, a penpal to both O'Connor and Iris Murdoch. ( )
  kitzyl | Jul 19, 2018 |
Hazel "Haze" Motes, recently discharged from the Army returns to his home only to find it abandoned. He exchanges his uniform for a outfit which makes him look like a preacher. Raised by a father who was a preacher and effected by his WWII experiences, he has become an atheist. Taking a train to Taulkinham, everyone he meets assumes that he is a preacher, which he angrily denies. After witnessing a blind preacher selling potato peelers, he decides to begin his church, "the church of truth without Jesus Christ Crucified."

This was Flannery O'Connor's first novel written in 1952. She had written only short stories before then. Hearing much of Flannery O'Connor and the fact she is a Georgia writer born in my second home, Savannah, I had high hopes for this novel. However, I found the book a series of disjointed vignettes. I did enjoy many of the colorful characters, especially, the dialect written by O'Connor with words such as "innerleckchuls" and "theseyer". ( )
  John_Warner | Jun 14, 2018 |
So - I read this book, but did not like it. I see why its considered a classic, but with every character mostly unlikable, and a plot that seems a bit pointless, its not one I would recommend to anybody.

It does remind me a bit of Catcher in the Rye - but instead of a juvenile delinquent, we get a former soldier who lost his faith in Jesus (not God). He comes back with no purpose in life, and when he thinks he found it again, realizes that he was fooled by a fraud.

Overall, I'm glad I read it (and it helps that it was short), but between the depressing themes, and the annoying characters, it is one that I won't be reading again. ( )
  TheDivineOomba | Apr 15, 2018 |
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Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the other end of the car.
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Book description
Hazel Motes returns from the military to find his home abandoned. He is a man in religious crisis. His own grandfather was a revival preacher, yet he has rejected not only faith, but the entire story of Jesus.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0374530637, Paperback)

Wise Blood is a comedy with a fierce, Old Testament soul. Flannery O'Connor has no truck with such newfangled notions as psychology. Driven by forces outside their control, her characters are as one-dimensional--and mysterious--as figures on a frieze. Hazel Motes, for instance, has the temperament of a martyr, even though he spends most of the book trying to get God to go away. As a child he's convinced that "the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin." When that doesn't work, and when he returns from Korea determined "to be converted to nothing instead of evil," he still can't go anywhere without being mistaken for a preacher. (Not that the hat and shiny glare-blue suit help.) No matter what Hazel does, Jesus moves "from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark..."

Adrift after four years in the service, Hazel takes a train to the city of Taulkinham, buys himself a "rat-colored car," and sets about preaching on street corners for the Church Without Christ, "where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way." Along the way he meets Enoch Emery, who's only 18 years old but already works for the city, as well the blind preacher Asa Hawks and his illegitimate daughter, Sabbath Lily. (Her letter to an advice column: "Dear Mary, I am a bastard and a bastard shall not enter the kingdom of heaven as we all know, but I have this personality that makes boys follow me. Do you think I should neck or not?") Subsequent events involve a desiccated, centuries-old dwarf--Gonga the Giant Jungle Monarch--and Hazel's nemesis, Hoover Shoats, who starts the rival Church of Christ Without Christ. If you think these events don't end happily, you might be right.

Wise Blood is a savage satire of America's secular, commercial culture, as well as the humanism it holds so dear ("Dear Sabbath," Mary Brittle writes back, "Light necking is acceptable, but I think your real problem is one of adjustment to the modern world. Perhaps you ought to re-examine your religious values to see if they meet your needs in Life.") But the book's ultimate purpose is Religious, with a capital R--no metaphors, no allusions, just the thing itself in all its fierce glory. When Hazel whispers "I'm not clean," for instance, O'Connor thinks he is perfectly right. For readers unaccustomed to holding low comedy and high seriousness in their heads at the same time, all this can come as something of a shock. Who else could offer an allegory about free will, redemption, and original sin right alongside the more elemental pleasure of witnessing Enoch Emery dress up in a gorilla suit? Nobody else, that's who. And that's OK. More than one Flannery O'Connor in this world might show us more truth than we could bear. --Mary Park

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:20 -0400)

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The passengers on the train to Taulkinham show mixed reactions when Haze questions their belief in Jesus.

(summary from another edition)

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