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Wise Blood: A Novel Paperback – January 1, 1990

4.0 out of 5 stars 171 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

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.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; Reprint edition (January 1, 1990)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374505845
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374505844
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (171 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #697,776 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Oddsfish VINE VOICE on July 31, 2003
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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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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Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood contains many reoccuring and undermining religious themes. Her main theme includes the redemption of man by Christ. She also depicts the grotesques in society through her use of her subject matter. O'Connor bluntly uses this religious theme to prove that redemption is difficult for her characters because of the distorted sense of moral purpose in her characters. Throughout her novel, a major emphasis is placed on materialsim and money. Through her use of imagery, symbols, and details, O'Connor produces the unbalanced prosperity of the society, which leaves little assurance to blissfulness in life.
Her protagonist, Hazel Motes, becomes a fated preacher or even prophet; however, Hazel rejects any form of Christ in his life including the image of himself. Even though it is rejected, his fate dominates him throughout the novel, and via his rejection of Christ, Hazel preaches the Church without Christ. Hazel finds that his reason for existence is to form the Church without Christ. Eventually, Hazel sacrifices everything in his life so as to not accept Christ which eventually destroys him. It would have been much better to sacrifice everything he had to begin with in order to accept Christ and let Christ take over from there. This would have prevented Hazel's destruction rooted from his rejection of Christ. This proves O'Connor's purpose of showing a society full of people who cannot accept Christ and who are, at most times, destroyed in some way in their attempt to reject their religious side.
O'Connor mocks evangelism and the all too popular "preachers for profits," who have no training in religion what so ever, in order to display her scorn for popularized anti-cerebral religion.
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Hazel Motes, protagonist of "Wise Blood," is an accidental prophet. Though the novel precedes the much better "The Violent Bear It Away," it can be read as a sort of sequel to that novel - what might have happened to young Tarwater if we were allowed to see his adventures in the city.
Motes goes around the city in the evenings, preaching the Church Without Christ, a church in which the individual is free from the 'bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus' - freed from tradition, from dogma, from traditional notions of salvation. Motes preaches the coming of a new Jesus - a contemporary that modern (or post-modern) people can relate to.
In his quest, Motes is pursued by two individuals, Sabbath Hawks, the daughter of a blind false prophet, and Enoch Emery, a wannabe disciple. Emery wants very badly to find that new Jesus and receive a revelation from him.
Full of strange and compelling, if somewhat distant characters, including a small mummy and a gorilla suit, "Wise Blood" does not have the plot flow of "The Violent Bear It Away," and it is a little more haphazard, but it is a wonderful first glance into Flannery O'Connor's genius fictional mind, possessed with finding Christ in existentialism with or without Kierkegaard.
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