10 November 2012

Books in the Club: Flannery O'Connor, Wise Blood

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Enoch never nagged his blood to tell him a thing until it was ready.  He wasn't the kind of a boy who grabs at any possibility and runs off, proposing this or that preposterous thing. In a large matter like this, he was always willing to wait for a certainty, and he waited for this one, certain at least that he would know in a few days. Then for about a week his blood was in secret conference with itself every day, only stopping now and then to shout some order at him.

I have always been a big fan of Flannery O'Connor.  I love her short stories and her wonderful, weird, albeit depressing, view of the evangelical, racist South of the 1940's and 50's.  Wise Blood is O'Connor's first novel, and one of her first pieces of writing full stop.  It tells the story of a strange and lonely man, Hazel Motes, and his attempts to found a church: The Church of Christ Without Christ.  The novel is derived from a number of previously published short stories, which often seem clumsily stuck together.  One of the most interesting strands is about a young man named Enoch, who for a short time becomes a follower of Hazel Motes.  He claims to have "wise blood," leading him to discover a new savior, and what results is as strange as anything O'Connor has written.  I think it would have been a stellar standalone story.

Unfortunately, I didn't think this was a stellar novel.  There are lots of elements characteristic of all of O'Connor's work:  a scathing critique of a certain type of organized religion, depiction after depiction of the grotesqueness of human kind,  an allegorical feel and reliance on symbolic meanings, and elements of the Gothic.  Her writing doesn't feel as effortless as in some of her later work, although I wouldn't say that O'Connor's prose is what stands out about any of her fiction.  This was a slow paced read, often clunky, but what we found in my book club was that there was a lot to talk about once it was finished.  The book produced one of our most lively discussions to date, and for that, I'm glad I read it.

Title: Wise Blood
Author: Flannery O'Connor
Publisher: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
Date: 1949
Genre:Literary Fiction

232  pages.
Where I got it: Bought It
Challenges: Classics Club, Back to the Classics

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