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Group Reads: Pre-1990 > Final Impressions - Wise Blood. June 2018

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message 1: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4401 comments Mod
Post your perceptions here, and your review, if you wrote one. Spoilers OK here.


message 2: by Dustincecil (last edited Jun 07, 2018 03:01PM) (new)

Dustincecil | 178 comments The first time I read this, I was quick to judge Haze, as a freak- misinformed by his community/family and the idealism of youth. This time around, I was able to see him as a bit broken by the military and also a heavy dose of mental illness.

In between these two reads, I was also struck by how similar this is to "the violent bear it away" albeit with less tooth. I could also easily imagine this taking place in the boarding house from "the heart is a lonely hunter".

I loved that Haze was convinced that he could still feel shrapnel in his body- but was equally convinced that he couldn't feel his soul.

Brad Dourif killed as Hazel, if ever get a chance to see the movie, I highly recommend it.


message 3: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4401 comments Mod
I'll look for that movie, I'd like to see it. It's great how a second or third read can give you different perceptions. The first time, you're intent on the plot and characters, second time around you can read between the lines.


message 4: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4401 comments Mod
My library had the movie on the shelf, watched it today. It's like walking straight into the pages of this novel. The casting couldn't have been better if Flannery had chosen the actors herself. Plus the music and cinematography were great. Thanks for the tip, Dustincecil.


message 5: by Dustincecil (new)

Dustincecil | 178 comments oooo now I wanna watch it again.


message 6: by John (new)

John (jwarner6comcastnet) | 156 comments The entire movie is also on You Tube. I will need to look at it after I read the book. I did watch the first few minutes and you are correct Diane. This movie was filmed about two hours west of Augusta around the Macon area.


message 7: by Franky (new)

Franky | 346 comments https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uq5Q0...

Here's the film if anyone wants to watch on youtube.

I thought both book and film were a weird but rewarding experience. I agree that Douriff makes a perfect Haze.


message 8: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4401 comments Mod
Douriff is actually what I pictured Haze as when I read the book. And Harry Dean Stanton as the "blind" preacher.


message 9: by Joe (last edited Jun 07, 2018 11:58AM) (new)

Joe | 3 comments This duo marks the exception to the rule about movies and novels. Both are perfect reflections of the other. And yes, every actor in the movie is spot on. I heard that the sheriff who runs Haze's car off the cliff was played by an actual sheriff. He certainly fits that part. It seems to me that this novel is O'Connor's best work. Her stories, except "The Artificial Nigger" and "Parker's Back" too often go to the same veracity-stretching well of God's wondrous grace turning louts into saints.


message 10: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) Okay, so I'm an outlier on Wise Blood and I fully appreciate the irony since I nominated it. In my defense, I have wanted to read it for some time, own a copy, and hadn't read any O'Connor since undergrad -- as an English major who happily romped through multiple Southern Lit classes at a school where Southern literature is revered.

Since it garnered so many appreciative comments in both threads, as well as solid reviews from all and sundry on its core review page, my comments here are more blunt than they would be if I was worried that my negative view would discourage other members from reading it. I'm a lone tiny, tinny voice in these threads. :)

I loved one thing about it: that last chapter was deep, complex and a great character study.

OTOH, I disliked it for a variety of reasons. The most important to me were:

It lacked a story arc. Structurally, there was no impetus to read the next chapter and the next. It didn't build to any climax or dilemma. There was no character development. Everyone stayed as they were throughout the novel. And then it ended.

It lacked any of the sense of place that I love in Southern literature. It could have occurred anywhere in Appalachia or the midwest in the 50s and 60s. The townspeople were identified as, and shown to be, unfriendly on multiple occasions. There was a hardness in how everyone interacted that isn't true to Southern small towns, even in their greatest economic suffering. Sure, there are jerks and average ordinary people everywhere. But in the South they greet each other with a handshake and smile, whether or not it's always heartfelt. Here? Nope.

For a writer with O'Connor's heft, I anticipated dog-earring (I know, don't hate me for that - there are better reasons) multiple pages for exquisite writing, and interrupting my reading to type quotes of passages into updates and upload them to GR. I found one quote in the entire novel worth sharing.

I fully admit that I came to Wise Blood anticipating a wonderful reading experience and filling in a gap in my seminal Southern writer experience, but I had no expectation of a specific experience. I wasn't seeking to play Southern lit bingo, per se. I did have Walker Percy in the back of my mind and was looking forward to seeing how O'Connor integrated her experience of being Catholic in the south into her writing. But Wise Blood didn't give me that either. Motes' fury was generally focused on sin and redemption as concepts, but if anything they were anti-some-sort-of-evangelical revival church concepts, but not Christianity in general, or as lived in the South.

If the name on the cover were Ann Matthews and not Flannery O'Connor, I wonder if the reviews for it would be as glowing. (I'm not questioning anyone's enthusiasm here, please note but those in the wild here on GR.) I know I gave it a star bump to 3, when a 2 is generous, IMO.

A good friend here whose view of WB is in sync with mine read that big, thick collection of O'Connor short stories last year and loved all of them except for the ones that were later included in novels, including those with Motes. I think I should search out that short story collection - since it sits on a shelf downstairs in my living room - and purge WB from my mind.

And thanks in advance to all of you for tolerating my nay-sayer status on this one. :)


message 11: by Wyndy (new)

Wyndy | 241 comments I agree with every word you wrote here, Carol! I was extremely disappointed with this book and rated it 2 stars. The one and only sentence I marked in the entire novel was this, from the landlady: "He might put lime in his eyes and she wouldn't doubt it a bit, because they were all, if the truth was only known, a little bit off in their heads." That summed it all up for me. I too have her book, The Complete Stories, and plan to give some of them a try. I don't want WB to be my only experience with Flannery O'Connor. Thanks for your honest commentary.


message 12: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4401 comments Mod
I agree with both of you, and have not read her only other novel, but her short stories are magnificent. Also not your typical South or Southerner, Carol, she peoples her stories with strange birds and plots. I don't pretend to be an O'Connor scholar and she's certainly not my favorite writer, but some of her stories are just unforgettable.


message 13: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) Thank you, Wyndy and Diane. I appreciate feeling less like the only reader who doesn’t perceive greatness when in its presence, lol.

I’ll purge this memory and replace it with new readings of her short stories.


message 14: by Dustincecil (new)

Dustincecil | 178 comments loved the use of the word swole here.

The Violent Bear It Away is grittier, but deals with some of the same ideas.


message 15: by Lexy (new)

Lexy | 28 comments I feel as if I have lost two days of my life following around a group of tv evangelists. I was expecting more of Ms. O'Connor but since this was her first book, I suppose I can forgive her. LOL


message 16: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) Lexy wrote: "I feel as if I have lost two days of my life following around a group of tv evangelists. I was expecting more of Ms. O'Connor but since this was her first book, I suppose I can forgive her. LOL"

I know. Right? At least it wasn't 4 days. :)


message 17: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4401 comments Mod
Here's my question for those who know more about her books. Was she condemning Christianity, or defending it? It seemed to me that she was portraying these men spreading the "word" as either con men or idiots. Since I put most TV evangelists into the first category, where does that tell us about her opinion of the people who listened to them and gave them money?


message 18: by Doug H (last edited Jun 10, 2018 10:00AM) (new)

Doug H Diane wrote: "Here's my question for those who know more about her books. Was she condemning Christianity, or defending it? It seemed to me that she was portraying these men spreading the "word" as either con me..."

I remember there being an O’Connor scholar in this group: a writer who jumped in when we were discussing her short story collection and expounded on her experiences with Catholicism and the Catholic themes in her writing. I want to say her name is Kate something, but am not sure. I always assumed O’Connor was condemning the duplicity inherent in human nature and maybe organized religions by extension of that duplicity, but not spirituality itself. I’m not Catholic, so most of that stuff in her writing slipped past me. I’d like to know what Kate or others might think.

I love O’Connor’s short stories and read most of them in my early twenties. My favorites are The Displaced Person (actually more of a novella than a story) and Good Country People, but A Good Man is Hard to Find might be her most representative. That said, Wise Blood was pretty much a miss for me too. Wasn’t it cobbled together from a couple of lesser short stories?


message 19: by Doug H (new)

Doug H Kaye, not Kate.


message 20: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) Diane wrote: "Here's my question for those who know more about her books. Was she condemning Christianity, or defending it? It seemed to me that she was portraying these men spreading the "word" as either con me..."

She condemns grassroots evangelical Protestantism, but not Christianity. Street-corner preaching isn't a component of Catholic worship or practice.


message 21: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) I know there's no lack of analysis about O'Connor available on the interwebs, but found this June 2009 article from The Atlantic to be especially informative and insightful. It provides a fair amount of biographical detail (she never worked a job) with info on the timing of her lupus diagnosis and Wise Blood and other works. In any event, it's worth sharing.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/...


message 22: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4401 comments Mod
Thanks Carol, that was an illuminating article on many different levels. It answered a lot of my questions.


message 23: by Carol (new)

Carol (carolfromnc) Diane wrote: "Thanks Carol, that was an illuminating article on many different levels. It answered a lot of my questions."

I'm glad you enjoyed it, Diane. It was chock full of answers for me, too.


message 24: by Kaye (new)

Kaye Hinckley | 97 comments Diane wrote: "Here's my question for those who know more about her books. Was she condemning Christianity, or defending it? It seemed to me that she was portraying these men spreading the "word" as either con me..."

Doug wrote: "Diane wrote: "Here's my question for those who know more about her books. Was she condemning Christianity, or defending it? It seemed to me that she was portraying these men spreading the "word" as..."

When I saw that the Southern Trail was going to read Wise Blood, I meant to be sure to comment. And then things happened. Two new novels, but more importantly two new grandchildren. I have made it a point to be at the births of my grandchildren, and/or take care of their siblings, so my intent to reply about Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood was thrown to the wind. Today, I enjoyed reading the comments, but if Doug hadn’t mentioned me, I’d probably have left it alone as something I unfortunately hadn’t been able to get to.
I am happy to give my opinion, though. on an author I have always felt much attachment to, and much in common with. Being both Catholic and Southern, being the child of a woman born in Savannah the same year as Flannery--both even attended the same elementary school for a while, and having twice visited Andalusia, Flannery’s Milledgeville, Ga farm--in 2014 to launch of my own short story collection, published by Wiseblood Books.

Flannery O’Connor IS Catholic Fiction; right up there with Fyodor Dostoyevsky and his psychological penetration into the human soul, and into ethical debates of God, free will, and morality. His works are spiritual dramas of moral struggles concerning faith, doubt, and reason, set against a modernizing Russia. But like Walker Percy whose concern is basically the same as Dostoyevsky, Flannery O’Connor grew up here as a Catholic in the Protestant South--no easy thing. Wise Blood, her novel, is about a man afraid to admit to or show his belief in Christianity, afraid of the Incarnation—God made Man—mainly because Christianity asks something ‘big’ of him. It asks him to believe not in the natural world, but in the supernatural world. Ultimately, it asks him to see without eyes, as Hazel attempts to do in the end.

But O’Connor’s fiction is really not so much about the grotesque per se. It is about what ‘causes the grotesque in human beings. It is about good and evil in our world and how particular people deal with it in particular ways.

O’Connor wasn’t condemning Christianity in Wise Blood. Quite the opposite. She saw and wrote about the world she observed through the lens of her Catholic faith. As Flannery says in Mystery and Manners, “…the chief difference between a novelist who is an orthodox Christian and the novelist who is merely a naturalist is that the Christian novelist lives in a larger universe. He believes that the natural world contains the supernatural. And this doesn’t mean that his obligation to portray the natural is less; it means it is greater.”

And then, there’s the whole thing about redemptive suffering….but this is too long already. Thank you Doug for mentioning me.


message 25: by mark (new)

mark monday (majestic-plural) | 27 comments thank you for this very illuminating post, Kaye. I love the comparison to Dostoyevsky.


message 26: by Doug H (new)

Doug H Thanks for responding, Kaye. Much appreciated.

I’ll have to give O’Connor a sigh and a smile for her musings about Christians living in a “larger universe” than “mere” naturalists. I’d argue the exact opposite, but it’s pointless to argue with the dead.


message 27: by Kaye (new)

Kaye Hinckley | 97 comments mark wrote: "thank you for this very illuminating post, Kaye. I love the comparison to Dostoyevsky."
Thank you for reading it, Mark!


message 28: by Kaye (new)

Kaye Hinckley | 97 comments Doug wrote: "Thanks for responding, Kaye. Much appreciated.

I’ll have to give O’Connor a sigh and a smile for her musings about Christians living in a “larger universe” than “mere” naturalists. I’d argue the ..."


Well, you wouldn't be arguing with the dead but with many others who write that way, including myself. There is definitely a supernatural world beyond the natural. If there wasn't no one would have the ability to remember or imagine, make decisions, and use their intellects for wonderful and not so wonderful pursuits.


message 29: by Dustincecil (last edited Jun 12, 2018 05:11AM) (new)

Dustincecil | 178 comments I loved the fact that o'connor had the "balls" to write such an openly godless character (flaws and all) but feeling that it was a sort of sarcastic/ironic exercise is what ultimately kept this from being a 5 star read for me. By the time I was done, it ended up feeling almost too clever, and in the words of Haze- a trick. unforgettable though, and still worth a read for sure.


message 30: by Kaye (new)

Kaye Hinckley | 97 comments Dustincecil wrote: "I loved the fact that o'connor had the "balls" to write such an openly godless character (flaws and all) but feeling that it was a sort of sarcastic/ironic exercise is what ultimately kept this fro..."
Yes, unforgettable it is. And who knows, maybe "trick" is what she was trying to say about superficial faith? :)


message 31: by mark (new)

mark monday (majestic-plural) | 27 comments Kaye wrote: "And who knows, maybe "trick" is what she was trying to say about superficial faith? :) .."

agree. my perspective on the book is that Flannery - through Hazel most of all but also through many of the characters he meets - is painting different portraits of different false/problematic paths to and from faith, or providing actual examples of false faith.

I think Huston's adaptation differs from its source in several ways, but he not only stays true to that theme but ramps it up.


message 32: by Kaye (new)

Kaye Hinckley | 97 comments mark wrote: "Kaye wrote: "And who knows, maybe "trick" is what she was trying to say about superficial faith? :) .."

agree. my perspective on the book is that Flannery - through Hazel most of all but also thro..."

Yes, I believe you are right. And the movie was very good!


message 33: by John (new)

John (jwarner6comcastnet) | 156 comments Wise Blood by Flannery O'Connor
★★★

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". For my full review, please click here.


message 34: by Joey (new)

Joey Anderson | 56 comments I heartily agree with the above comments, except I did not like the film. Here is my take:

I read this novel years ago, but I have to admit I did not remember much except for Hazel Mote’s Church Without Christ. I think I did not remember much since O’Connor presents an awful group of misanthropic characters in a world of skepticism. What reader could tolerate a continual barrage of skepticism and unlikable people?

I believe that Hazel Motes would have fared better if he would have read Dostoevsky’s view of Christ. He could have saved himself and others a world of grief:

"If someone proved to me that Christ is outside the truth and that in reality the truth were outside of Christ, then I should prefer to remain with Christ rather than with the truth."

Now while I rated this novel a “4,” it makes perfect sense to me why others do not like this book very much. The book is not enjoyable reading, but, for me, it is interesting. But the “4” comes from the lack of the normal O’Connor style (her normal style is powerful and moving; I found the style here rather pedestrian) and I think the novel is such a one-sided reading due to the lack of characters of faith (no contrast to overwhelming disbelief in anything).

Why most readers find the novel unenjoyable is that it lacks any sympathetic characters. Is there anyone is this book you would invite over to dinner? Not me.

The characters, with Hazel Motes in the lead, are full of skepticism and hatred. Hazel Motes is a pushy little man who believes that it is his responsibility to tell others that what they believe is not the truth as if he had the cornered the market on it. What he doesn’t understand and the others characters do not as well is the concept and feeling of faith. For the believer, faith is truth, and not facts and figures. The skeptic just does not understand.

And the kind of person I distrust (and probably dislike) is the one that believes only he or she knows what truth is and is prepared to tell us all how we are all wrong.

Faith, by definition, is something that cannot be proved. People who try to prove or disprove any religious tenet or principle are simply ridiculous. You either have it or you don’t.

Another reason why many readers find the reading unenjoyable is that it is so one-sided in its presentation of skepticism. The novel only presents a singular point of view, that of skeptical evil. For a novel whose subject is religious faith, one would expect a contrary point of view, which would provide sympathy, one that would enable us to see if faith or disbelief is the better avenue of thought or action. With that lack of the faithful character, we can only judge the characters from our point of view instead of the novel doing so. I may be wrong, but I cannot think where the opposition to Hazel Motes exists. In a novel of skeptics, grifters, discontents, and a murderer, the work becomes an ugly expression of human depravity.

However, it is quite an interesting work about human depravity wrapped up in Christianity. O’Connor said about Christ and the South in Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose (which I am sure most of you know):

“Whenever I'm asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” 

This novel is certainly “Christ-haunted” (isn't Christ the actual silent center?) Hazel Motes is a freak. Yet, is there any character in the novel who is not a freak (not freak in a bad sense, but in the sense of being one-dimensional)?

By the way, does anyone know the meaning of someone who has “wise blood?” Enoch claims he has it, that he inherited it from his daddy. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what it is or its use as the novel’s title.

For those Trail members for whom this novel is an introduction to O’Connor and did not like it, give yourself a chance with her short stories. She is a master of that form (her style is exquisite, her characters are varied, and her plots are amazing). My favorite is “The Displaced Person.” But they are all jewels.


message 35: by Doug H (last edited Jun 20, 2018 04:22PM) (new)

Doug H Joey wrote: "...the kind of person I distrust (and probably dislike) is the one that believes only he or she knows what truth is and is prepared to tell us all how we are all wrong.."

I’m on the same page as you (I think), but I really get confused about that faith being beyond facts thing. Good things can come from that, but all sorts of abuse as well. It seems to me, a constant questioner of everything (or agnostic, if you must), “true believers” and atheists are equally close-minded.

I wonder if O’Connor was the fundamentalist Catholic some paint her as or if she was more of an open-minded wonderer of things who worked these wondering into her work.


message 36: by Jason (new)

Jason (desiderio) | 38 comments In re-reading WISE BLOOD again, I feel like it even more than before. I don’t think it is as good as her very best stories or THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY but it has a searing intensity that leaves you numb and suffocating like a scorching August day in the South. I do believe the characters are unlikable and I know O’Connor is presenting her Catholic vision through the spiritual foibles of her characters but it tends to leave me with a feeling of stark existential dread which I know O’Connor would be repulsed by, but in the end, that’s what I walk away getting from the novel.


message 37: by Kaye (new)

Kaye Hinckley | 97 comments No one can really get into the mind of any author as to why she writes as she does. "Things' just come. But I think O'Connor, in the end of Wise Blood, was leaving us with the impression that real sight does not take physical eyes but spiritual ones, which requires a huge amount of grace we are not often ready to accept. Your feeling of dread may be just what she wanted. :)


message 38: by Doug H (last edited Jun 28, 2018 04:07AM) (new)

Doug H Jason wrote: "In re-reading WISE BLOOD again, I feel like it even more than before. I don’t think it is as good as her very best stories or THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY but it has a searing intensity that leaves you..."

I sort of wished we'd read The Violent Bear It Away prior to Wise Blood. I had nominated that one a couple of times in the past but, based on most of the comments on this one, I doubt this group will want to give it a try - at least not any time soon. The only reason I really didn't like this one was because I could see the seams where it was pieced together from a couple of earlier short stories. It felt very choppy to me throughout. It's good to know you rate TVBIA higher, Jason. I plan to read it sometime later this year.


message 39: by Dustincecil (new)

Dustincecil | 178 comments I think we need to read Harry Crew's "the gospel singer" as a counterpoint.


message 40: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4401 comments Mod
I would love to read The Gospel Singer, but it's out of print and used copies are astronomical in price. My library doesn't have it. There is no ebook available. We need a publisher to re-issue his books.


message 41: by Diane, "Miss Scarlett" (new)

Diane Barnes | 4401 comments Mod
I do intend to read The Violent Bear It Away at some point, but am going to go into in with no preconceived notions.


message 42: by Oscar (new)

Oscar Patton | 21 comments Jason wrote: "In re-reading WISE BLOOD again, I feel like it even more than before. I don’t think it is as good as her very best stories or THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY but it has a searing intensity that leaves you..."

Kaye wrote: "No one can really get into the mind of any author as to why she writes as she does. "Things' just come. But I think O'Connor, in the end of Wise Blood, was leaving us with the impression that real ..."
Kaye, I think your reading of O'Connor is right on target.


message 43: by Kaye (new)

Kaye Hinckley | 97 comments Oscar wrote: "Jason wrote: "In re-reading WISE BLOOD again, I feel like it even more than before. I don’t think it is as good as her very best stories or THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY but it has a searing intensity t..."

Thank you, Oscar!


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