Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wise Blood, by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O'Connor is one of those authors I feel like I ought to like.  Her name pops up from time to time among Christian writers I respect.  She's supposedly this great Christian writer, loved by other writers, theologians, and teachers of college fiction classes, but she is simply not to my taste.  Does that mean I'm less cultured and intelligent that people who like to read her work?  I don't think so.  Just a matter of taste, I'd say.

Wise Blood, O'Connor's first novel, follows the travels of Hazel Motes as he tries to run from God.  For reasons never made terribly clear, he's never been able to reconcile some dissatisfying or disturbing experiences of his youth with the truth of the gospel.  Hypocritical or perverted expressions of Christianity aside, as he matures couldn't he have found what he was looking for: a genuine expression of Christ's love and grace?  Instead of looking, he takes on the affectations of a preacher, preaching the Church Without Christ.  In the meantime, he hooks up with a prostitute, beds an underaged girl, and ends up murdering a rival.

The thing that bothers me most about this novel is not its attempt at satirizing and challenging complacent Christianity, but the poor story telling.  The characters, terribly wooden and one-dimensional, behave in inexplicable ways that do not fit with their portrayal and certainly do not fit with the way real people act in real life.  For instance, when a policeman pulls Motes over, Motes informs him that he doesn't have a driver's license, so of course the officer pushes Motes's car off a cliff then offers him a ride back to town. Huh?  And the disconnected, rambling plot goes nowhere.

One of my favorite stories about O'Connor, which I read years ago in the introduction to a collection of her stories, tells of her conversation with, as I recall, the director of the Iowa Writers' Workshop.  O'Connor, born, raised, and educated in Georgia, could not make herself understood.  The midwesterner to whom she was speaking stopped her and said, "Young lady, you are going to have to stop and write down whatever it is you're saying, because I can't understand a word of it," or something to that effect.  Maybe if I lived in the deep South, I would have more appreciation for her gothic Southern tone, but for now it's falling on deaf ears.

I won't quit her forever; I understand her short fiction is her best work.  It's certainly what she's better known for, so maybe I'll pick some of that up.  Like I said, I want to like her, but for now I'll be looking elsewhere for both good storytelling and faith-challenging literature.

No comments:

Post a Comment