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Wise Blood: A Novel (FSG Classics) Paperback – March 6, 2007

4.1 out of 5 stars 235 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Wise Blood is a comedy with a fierce, Old Testament soul. Flannery O'Connor has no truck with such newfangled notions as psychology. Driven by forces outside their control, her characters are as one-dimensional--and mysterious--as figures on a frieze. Hazel Motes, for instance, has the temperament of a martyr, even though he spends most of the book trying to get God to go away. As a child he's convinced that "the way to avoid Jesus was to avoid sin." When that doesn't work, and when he returns from Korea determined "to be converted to nothing instead of evil," he still can't go anywhere without being mistaken for a preacher. (Not that the hat and shiny glare-blue suit help.) No matter what Hazel does, Jesus moves "from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark..."

Adrift after four years in the service, Hazel takes a train to the city of Taulkinham, buys himself a "rat-colored car," and sets about preaching on street corners for the Church Without Christ, "where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way." Along the way he meets Enoch Emery, who's only 18 years old but already works for the city, as well the blind preacher Asa Hawks and his illegitimate daughter, Sabbath Lily. (Her letter to an advice column: "Dear Mary, I am a bastard and a bastard shall not enter the kingdom of heaven as we all know, but I have this personality that makes boys follow me. Do you think I should neck or not?") Subsequent events involve a desiccated, centuries-old dwarf--Gonga the Giant Jungle Monarch--and Hazel's nemesis, Hoover Shoats, who starts the rival Church of Christ Without Christ. If you think these events don't end happily, you might be right.

Wise Blood is a savage satire of America's secular, commercial culture, as well as the humanism it holds so dear ("Dear Sabbath," Mary Brittle writes back, "Light necking is acceptable, but I think your real problem is one of adjustment to the modern world. Perhaps you ought to re-examine your religious values to see if they meet your needs in Life.") But the book's ultimate purpose is Religious, with a capital R--no metaphors, no allusions, just the thing itself in all its fierce glory. When Hazel whispers "I'm not clean," for instance, O'Connor thinks he is perfectly right. For readers unaccustomed to holding low comedy and high seriousness in their heads at the same time, all this can come as something of a shock. Who else could offer an allegory about free will, redemption, and original sin right alongside the more elemental pleasure of witnessing Enoch Emery dress up in a gorilla suit? Nobody else, that's who. And that's OK. More than one Flannery O'Connor in this world might show us more truth than we could bear. --Mary Park --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Bronson Pinchot turns in a virtuosic performance of O'Connor's darkly comic classic first novel. After serving a stint in the army, Hazel Motes finds himself adrift, alone, and rent by spiritual confusion. Pinchot's narration is superb: dynamic, well paced, and infused with a perfect Southern drawl. Instead of simply creating voices for the characters, Pinchot embodies them. His Hazel is nasty, nasally, and angry; his Enoch Emery boasts a congested twang; and the entire cast is likewise brought to life by Pinchot's precise and perceptive characterizations and his brilliant evocation of O'Conner's grotesqueries. A Farrar, Straus, and Giroux paperback. (Aug.)
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

Product Details

  • Series: FSG Classics
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reissue edition (March 6, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374530637
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374530631
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (235 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,654 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Flannery O'Connor was born in Savannah, Georgia in 1925, the only child of Catholic parents. In 1945 she enrolled at the Georgia State College for Women. After earning her degree she continued her studies on the University of Iowa's writing program, and her first published story, 'The Geranium', was written while she was still a student. Her writing is best-known for its explorations of religious themes and southern racial issues, and for combining the comic with the tragic. After university, she moved to New York where she continued to write. In 1952 she learned that she was dying of lupus, a disease which had afflicted her father. For the rest of her life, she and her mother lived on the family dairy farm, Andalusia, outside Millidgeville, Georgia. For pleasure she raised peacocks, pheasants, swans, geese, chickens and Muscovy ducks. She was a good amateur painter. She died in the summer of 1964.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"Do you think it is possible to come to Christ through ordinary dislike before discovering the love of Christ? Can dislike be a sign?" - Walker Percy in The Last Gentleman
I've never really grasped what Walker Percy meant by that one until I read Wise Blood, but that's what happens. The opposite of love isn't hate. Rather, it's indifference, and hate is some form of love. In Wise Blood, Hazel does hate Christ, but that hate is emblematic of the belief (and unwanted love) he actually holds for Him. Wise Blood is Hazel's dark journey in a fallen world toward happening onto a bit of grace, painful but merciful at the same time.
Wise Blood isn't a book to read if you want to end up with a warm and fuzzy feeling inside. Its setting is a grim, fallen world, and the characters aren't exactly likeable. Nevertheless, the truth O'Connor has to present through her dark humor is powerful and insightful. This is a wonderful book for intellectual Christians and for anyone else searching for truth in this mess of a world.
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I think it's important to correct a common misperception that's been cropping up in the reviews here. I can understand how someone might come to the conclusion that The Violent Bear it Away is an exposure of, or an attack on, religious fanaticism, but I can say with almost absolute certainty that this was not the author's intention. Flannery O'Connor was a devout Roman Catholic, and nearly all of her stories (check out especially A Good Man is Hard to Find) carry a very extreme and uncompromising religious message. Everything connected with her - the other stories, her personal correspondence, and the text of Violent itself - suggest that it was meant as, crudely stated, an endorsement of fanaticism; or more accurately, a spiritual call to arms, and an attack of meek secularism. This doesn't mean that the book is only for religious people. Someone reading it from an antifanatic standpoint might well benefit, if only by discovering in the person of the author herself an example of the fanaticism they find so distasteful. A religious reader, though, should not be frightened away by all these reviews suggesting that The Violent is a plea for religious moderation. O'Connor's vision, above all, was radical and unconventional, and for either a religious, an agnostic or an antireligious reader, it presents something to think about.

As for the book itself, I only give it four stars because I think O'Connor's short stories are a better exploration of her themes. In the long form, instead of presenting a more nuanced view of the world, there is only room for more brutality and meanness; which isn't neccesarily a bad thing, but which isn't a good thing either. I would reccommend either of O'Connor's short story collections before The Violent, but for a fan of her work, The Violent is indispensable.
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Format: Paperback
This book is probably O'Connor's finest work of fiction. The story itself is much stronger than the more highly acclaimed Wise Blood, as are its characters. I find it interesting that one reviewer referred to disliking the grotesque characters, while admiring O'Connor's use of symbolism and metaphor. One who has read O'Connor knows that there are few characters in the author's opus that could not be classified as grotesque. As far as her use of symbolism, one must certainly recognize that O'Connor's characters were the most obvious manifestations of her symbolism and metaphor. As she herself said, when drawing for a child, one makes the figure overly-clear. Also, while this book, might seem to tread between rational humanism and religion, the end finds O'Connor squarely on the side of the seemingly tyrannical, certainly unbalanced uncle. The story is funny, full of observation and commentary, and endowed with the wisdom of one who has seen the world and is on their way out, as O'Connor was by the time the Violent Bear it Away was written. In short, no library is complete without this work-the paramount achievement of one of the century's greatest authors.
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Format: Paperback
In May 1952, after Flannery O'Connor published "Wise Blood" to mixed notices, she wrote to her publisher, Robert Giroux, and demonstrated her ability to take even the bad reviews with aplomb: "I have a request for a complimentary copy of 'Wise Blood' from Captain W. of the Salvation Army for their reading room and would be much obliged if you would send them a copy.... I'm always pleased to oblige the Salvation Army. According to some of the reviews you have sent me, I ought to be in it."

Throughout 1950s America--and especially in her hometown-the few readers who came across O'Connor's novel were dismayed or shocked by the its violence and its seemingly amoral characters; even two years after publication, still receiving fan letters ("what happened to the guy in the ape suit?") from the scattering of readers who liked it, O'Connor was able to joke, "I have now reached the lunatic fringe and there is no place left for me to go." A half century later, though, O'Connor has the last laugh, because the dark humor that pervades her "Southern Gothic" tale is more readily digested by modern audiences reared on films by the likes of David Lynch and Lars Von Trier

A quick and easy read, "Wise Blood" portrays a series of unforgettably creepy losers in haunting, disturbing scenes. Hazel Motes, a soldier discharged from the army because of an injury, becomes a street-corner preacher for the nihilistic "Church Without Christ" (with a congregation of one). He meets, and can't shake off, a friendless and troubled adolescent, and the two of them subsequently encounter an alcoholic charlatan who pretends to be a blind preacher and who hopes somehow to take advantage of Hazel by getting him to marry his young daughter.
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