Monday, May 4, 2009

Wise Blood

Flannery O'Connor's first novel, Wise Blood, is considered by many to be a masterpiece of the Southern Gothic tradition. Well, I've loved quite a few books in this category, and found Wise Blood to be the least interesting I've read. The back jacket of my copy says that the book "gives us one of the most riveting characters in American fiction," which confounds me since I can't even imagine which of the novel's uncompelling characters this quote refers to. Reviewers call it "hilarious," "memorable," "astonishing" and "haunting." I found it to be none of those things.

Wise Blood is about the spiritual and physical journey taken by 22-year-old Hazel Motes upon his discharge from the Army. He returns to Tennessee and immediately makes his way to the fictional town of Taulkingham, to which he had no prior connection. After a run-in with "blind" preacher Asa Hawks, Asa's illegitimate 15-year-old daughter Sabbath Lily Hawks, and local lad Enoch Emory, Motes decides to stay in town start sidewalk preaching for his own Church Without Christ. Each deeply flawed and eccentric character fixates to some degree on religion, yet none is able to fully reconcile it with his or her reality.

The book purports to be an exploration of faith and redemption. I found it to be a hodgepodge of sequential anecdotes that taken together don't quite comprise a narrative. The uneven writing from section to section contributes to its unenjoyability, though Wise Blood is not entirely without merit. Certain of the scenes are very vivid, and at least one is even amusing. My understanding is that many of the book's sections were initially individual short stories, which were later merged into a novel. Perhaps they should have remained separate.

I'll be reading two of O'Connor's short stories for Thursday's book club meeting, so will have an opinion by that time of whether she was a more effective short story writer. I'm sincerely hoping this will be the case.

Next up: Stephenie Meyer's New Moon, sequel to Twilight. Yeah, I'm hooked. Who knew?!


A.V. Kennedy said...

Yes, Flannery O'Connor excels at the short story. Some literature profs even suggest NOT reading her novellas. I have a dark sense of humor, but even I didn't find Wise Blood funny. But, I've reread "A Good Man is Hard to Find," and Wow, it's even better than I remember. Hope that story Redeems the author for you :)

Joker said...

As the dog returneth to its own vomit, so doth Angie return to the Twilight series...