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Wise Blood: A Novel by Flannery O'Connor
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Wise Blood: A Novel (original 1952; edition 2007)

by Flannery O'Connor

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
2,219572,914 (3.89)125
Member:StephenBarkley
Title:Wise Blood: A Novel
Authors:Flannery O'Connor
Info:Farrar, Straus and Giroux (2007), Paperback, 232 pages
Collections:Your library, @Church
Rating:*****
Tags:Fiction, Roman Catholic, Religion

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Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor (1952)

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Showing 1-5 of 57 (next | show all)
In the Author’s Note to the Second Edition, written in 1962, Ms. O’Connor quite candidly writes “Wise Blood was written by an author congenitally innocent of theory…”. Kudos to her, at least, for that confession.

I’ve always considered Flannery O’Connor to be one of the pillars of Southern (American) literature. And that she was able to produce as much — and as much great — literature before succumbing to the ravages of systemic lupus erythematosus at the age of only 39 remains a wonder to me.

That said, I don’t believe that Wise Blood shows her skills in their best light. I’ll grant that as a first novel, Wise Blood shows promise — or at least elicits interest. But the work is disjointed — and at times, downright sloppy. As an example of the latter, take the following paragraph from Chapter 8, an otherwise quite humorous tract on the character of Enoch Emery, one of the principal characters in Wise Blood:

“This was a disappointment to him because he had hoped that the money would be for some new clothes for him, and here he saw it going into a set of drapes. He didn’t know what the gilt was for until he got home with it; when he got home with it, he sat down in front of the slop-jar in the washstand, unlocked it, and painted the inside of it with the gilt (emphasis mine).”

Am I being overly fastidious — even captious — with the above criticism? Not, I believe, for someone of Flannery O’Connor’s reputation.

Erskine Caldwell — another Southern great — does wonders with repetition (or rather, with slight syntactical variations on the same thought or expression). Ms. O’Connor’s repetition, however, strikes me as slovenly — as if she simply couldn’t be bothered to re-read (and obviously edit out mistakes in) her work.

But the larger error in Wise Blood — or so, at least, it seems to me — is that the story meanders, and that certain plot-points would seem to have no (or very little) real raison-d’être. At the same time, characters appear out of the blue — and then disappear just as readily (and inexplicably).

I realize that my criticism of the work of this literary icon borders on blasphemy. But if memory serves, I once felt that Carson McCullers’s The Heart is a Lonely Hunter — also her first novel, by the way — was not without flaws.

I’m very happy to be able to say that, of the three “Graces” of Southern (American) literature — Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers and Eudora Welty — the first two went on to produce incredible work (although I must confess, I just never quite got the allure of Eudora Welty). Wise Blood just isn’t among those works.

RRB
07/07/13
Brooklyn, NY
( )
  RussellBittner | Dec 12, 2014 |
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor shows the strength of the Christian Spirit in Modern-Times, especially in the Southern Bible-Belt. The Bible is something people live through down here(this reviewer lives in Lakeland Florida, a hot bed Christian revival). The bible is not an abstracted idea that one believes. O'Connor shows the depth of the blood that is wise through the giving of ones life to the Gospel. It is a short novel, but one that will haunt you for a long time. O'Connor is proclaiming to the world that there is nothing for your pain but the Blood of Jesus Christ, by showing characters who attempt to make their own gospel. Hazel attempts to have a church without Christ. Hazel's hope rests in a car that will not move forward. He attempts to direct the divine path, but finds that like Noah (in the story about a whale) that he can't subtract or add form a debt that has all ready been paid in full. We like Hazel stuff gravel in our shoes, attempting to perfect our own walk. And all this does is hurt our feet. We are merely pinpoints of light awash in the flood of being. OConnor proclaims that a church without Christ falls off the cliff never to be put back together again. I recommend this book to anyone interested in faith, the church, Southern Sensibilities, or anyone interested in a great read. Two clucks way up.

( )
  Gregorio_Roth | Dec 5, 2014 |
Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor shows the strength of the Christian Spirit in Modern-Times, especially in the Southern Bible-Belt. The Bible is something people live through down here(this reviewer lives in Lakeland Florida, a hot bed Christian revival). The bible is not an abstracted idea that one believes. O'Connor shows the depth of the blood that is wise through the giving of ones life to the Gospel. It is a short novel, but one that will haunt you for a long time. O'Connor is proclaiming to the world that there is nothing for your pain but the Blood of Jesus Christ, by showing characters who attempt to make their own gospel. Hazel attempts to have a church without Christ. Hazel's hope rests in a car that will not move forward. He attempts to direct the divine path, but finds that like Noah (in the story about a whale) that he can't subtract or add form a debt that has all ready been paid in full. We like Hazel stuff gravel in our shoes, attempting to perfect our own walk. And all this does is hurt our feet. We are merely pinpoints of light awash in the flood of being. OConnor proclaims that a church without Christ falls off the cliff never to be put back together again. I recommend this book to anyone interested in faith, the church, Southern Sensibilities, or anyone interested in a great read. Two clucks way up.

( )
  Gregorio_Roth | Dec 5, 2014 |
Before I get completely slammed for the low rating on this book, I do think this book was well written. The rating reflects my personal reaction after reading it. 2 stars = 'it was ok'. I didn't enjoy it, but I could definitely see how this might appeal to some people. I've read short stories by Flannery O'Connor and she has a brilliant wit - dark, sarcastic, biting, but brilliant. This novel is about Hazel Motes, a Southern preacher who is questioning his own faith and decides to start a new religion, The Church of God Without Christ and goes around proselytizing his new beliefs. Maybe because I am an atheist/agnostic and am not from the South, but somehow, I didn't find this book to be a commentary on anything that I'm familiar with. Just not my cup of tea. ( )
  jmoncton | Jul 27, 2014 |
Hazel Motes gets out of the army and arbitrarily goes to a generic southern city to play out his damage. He has lost his father and mother and grandfather. While traveling on a sleeper to the city he has a dream in which each in turn manage to spring out of their coffins, miraculously alive. Then he wakes up. He is in a fury at Jesus, presumably for failing him, though his specific anger on the matter is never addressed. A rage burns within him which he cannot satisfy, no matter what he does. Even when he begins the Church Without Christ and begins to "preach" from the hood of his old car. He reminds me of the inarticulate family Naipaul writes about in The Enigma of Arrival, who, because they lack language, can only act out their sufferings in quasi-violent ways. To say that Hazel Motes eventually addresses matters through recourse to violence gives nothing away. When reading the closing pages its seems all too, not predictable, but correct, from the standpoint of his character. O'Connor refers to him as Haze, a nickname that captures wonderfully his undirected nature. His last name is Motes, specks of dust in the air, seems an apt metaphor for his lack of direction as well. The book has amazing moments throughout and an adroitly handled suspense grips the reader. Be advised, this book makes liberal use in the early going of the n-word. At first my sense was that O'Connor knew how these people would speak and what words they would use, and these are the words she used. But this seems false when one considers that such persons realistically must have cursed a blue streak, too, yet none of those words made their way into the text. ( )
  William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
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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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:36:20 -0400)

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

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