Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Audiobook Review: Wise Blood

Listened 7/19/14 - 7/28/14
3 Stars - Recommended to readers who like their characters slightly mad and incredibly unlikable
Audio: approx 4 hours
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
Released: 2010

Welp! I'm no longer a Flannery O'Connor virgin. It's about time I popped that cherry. I own a few of her books, have had them sitting around here for years actually, but just never seemed to get around to reading any of them. And I'd always heard great things about Wise Blood, her first novel, so when I saw had it on audio, and that it was narrated by Bronson Pinchot (who did a phenomenal job with Authority), I figured now was as good a time as any to get started on her.

Though, now that I look back at it, I wonder if this was the right book to start with because I found every single one of its characters to be wholly unlikable and more-than-a-little mad. And I'm not sure if that's typical of Flannery or if it's specific to this book due to its religious nature.

But before I get too far off course, let's set things up. Wise Blood tells the tale of Hazel Motes, a sour young military man who returns home to discover that, well, he has no home to return to. A quick peek through the house he grew up in is enough to tell him that his mother just packed up and disappeared. If that wasn't enough to put a chip on his shoulder, my guess is being asked if he's a preacher by every stranger he comes across certainly is. Maybe it's the suit and hat? Maybe it's the way he carries himself? Or maybe it's the fact that he claims to be an out-and-out atheist?

He's crotchety, and sarcastic, and looks down his nose at everyone, and now, out of the blue, he's decided to go on and preach a new church - The Church Without Christ - to prove to everyone just how anti-religious he is. He buys a beat up ole car, parks it in front of various movie houses, and spews his atheist views from the hood of it, proud to piss people off and even prouder to blasphemy the word of God.

As he builds his roaming Church Without Christ, he comes into contact with eighteen year old Enoch Emery, a kid who is incredibly mentally unstable and who's taken an extreme liking to Hazel. He follows Hazel around town endlessly, yammering away about his shit family life, and his current friendless existence, and tries desperately to befriend him. Hazel can't stand Enoch, can't seem to shake him off, and treats him horribly time and time again. But Enoch's got "wise blood", blood that talks to him, blood that tells Enoch to do bad things, things he isn't really keen to be doing, things he seems helpless to avoid. things that keep leading him back to Hazel.

Hazel, meanwhile, has become infatuated with Asa Hawks, an old "blind man" he meets on the street. The old man wants nothing to do with him, so to punish him Hazel devises a plan that includes moving into the old man's apartment building and seducing his fifteen year old daughter, Sabbath. The plan quickly backfires, though, when Sabbath returns his faked affections ten-fold, much to his dismay and frustration.

You'd have to be blind not to see that Hazel isn't all that different than Enoch. Wanting what he can't have. Following someone around town who won't accept his company. Putting people up on pedestals who have no right and no interest in being up there.

Little by little, Enoch's obsession with Hazel, his determination to help Hazel locate a new Jesus for his church, and his desire to have Hazel acknowledge him drives him mad. Well, more mad, I guess. Because lord knows that boy's head was never screwed on properly to begin with. And Hazel. Poor, miserable, confused Hazel. A man who claims he has no religion yet struggles daily with the fact that he isn't "clean"; who preaches The Church Without Christ yet punishes himself day after day in the name of the very religion he speaks out against. We watch idly as his growing obsession with The Hawks' and his own unclean behaviors drive him teetering off the deep end too...

A funny thing about religion. In order to be atheist - to disbelieve in the existence of God - you are kind of admitting that there is something to disbelieve in. By taking a stand against God, against the existence of God, are you not confirming that God does, then, exist? That's quite the little pickle he's found himself in. Like a snake eating its own tail.

Wise Blood doesn't attempt to define words like "grace" and "redemption" and "Jesus". Rather, it delves into how others perceive them. The powerful effect they can have on believers and nonbelievers alike.

Oh yeah. And it brings to life some of most mentally unstable and annoying characters I've ever met in literature!

1 comment:

  1. Bleak. Disturbing. Grotesque. Heavy-handed. And a really good read in a demented but worthwhile way. O'Connor is certainly positing a point of view about false prophets and the weakness of the flesh, but somehow she does it without making me further resent the pope.

    Post-war Tennessee is the backdrop for this passion play of a boy grown to manhood, having spent his whole life fleeing Jesus by fleeing sin. And now, returned from WWII, damaged physically, mentally, and especially spiritually, he is looking through distorted eyes at a world that makes less sense than ever. After listening to a blind street preacher, his ideas about forming a "Church without Christ" to, contradictorily save people from salvation, gel in his mind until he declares, "Jesus is a trick on niggers ... I don't have to run from anything because I don't believe in anything ... Which direction is the zoo in?". The man is Twis-Ted!

    Despite his earnest effort, he convinces no one to follow him and instead, sin follows and captures him, forcing him to abandon his failed ministry and pay for his sins.

    This is a short book, but O'Connor packs in plenty to contemplate. Definitely recommended. My blog: new games