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Wise Blood

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The American short story master Flannery O'Connor's haunting first novel of faith, false prophets, and redemptive wisdom.

Wise Blood, Flannery O'Connor's astonishing and haunting first novel, is a classic of twentieth-century literature. It is the story of Hazel Motes, a twenty-two-year-old caught in an unending struggle against his inborn, desperate fate. He falls under the spell of a "blind" street preacher named Asa Hawks and his degenerate fifteen-year-old daughter, Sabbath Lily. In an ironic, malicious gesture of his own non-faith, and to prove himself a greater cynic than Hawks, Motes founds the Church Without Christ, but is still thwarted in his efforts to lose God. He meets Enoch Emery, a young man with "wise blood," who leads him to a mummified holy child and whose crazy maneuvers are a manifestation of Motes's existential struggles.

This tale of redemption, retribution, false prophets, blindness, blindings, and wisdom gives us one of the most riveting characters in American fiction.

256 pages, Paperback

First published May 15, 1952

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About the author

Flannery O'Connor

180 books4,461 followers
Critics note novels Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960) and short stories, collected in such works as A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955), of American writer Mary Flannery O'Connor for their explorations of religious faith and a spare literary style.

The Georgia state college for women educated O’Connor, who then studied writing at the Iowa writers' workshop and wrote much of Wise Blood at the colony of artists at Yaddo in upstate New York. She lived most of her adult life on Andalusia, ancestral farm of her family outside Milledgeville, Georgia.

O’Connor wrote Everything That Rises Must Converge (1964). When she died at the age of 39 years, America lost one of its most gifted writers at the height of her powers.

Survivors published her essays were published in Mystery and Manners (1969). Her Complete Stories , published posthumously in 1972, won the national book award for that year. Survivors published her letters in The Habit of Being (1979). In 1988, the Library of America published Collected Works of Flannery O'Connor, the first so honored postwar writer.

People in an online poll in 2009 voted her Complete Stories as the best book to win the national book award in the six-decade history of the contest.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,918 reviews
Profile Image for Jeffrey Keeten.
Author 3 books248k followers
February 23, 2019

After reading just a few pages of this book I kept thinking to myself Hazel Motes is doomed.


First of all he is the lead character in a Flannery O'Connor novel. The only thing that could be worst is if he were the lead character in a Jim Thompson novel. The poor bastard hasn't got a chance. For one thing he's got the wrong look to him. "His black hat sat on his head with a careful, placed expression on his face had a fragile look as if it might have been broken and stuck together again, or like a gun no one knows is loaded."

Haze decides that he is an atheist and to prove he is irreligious he sleeps with loose women. Not with any passion or conviction, but with the hope that he can finally reduce the pull of the church on his soul. Much to his irritation people take him for a preacher. People see piety in his hat and his jacket. He is quiet and odd, and people can almost smell the religious conviction boiling beneath the surface of his skin.

He starts his own religion I mean anti-religion. The church Without Christ. He preaches in the street from the bumper of his Essex car. He decides to seduce a fifteen year old girl, Sabbath Hawks daughter of a "blind" preacher, to prove again to himself what a bad, bad boy he is, but recoils from the prospect when he discovers she is a nymphomaniac.

A local con man, Hoover Shoats, feels that Haze is really mucking up the whole point of starting a new religion, making money, and first attempts to join up with Motes, but when he is rebuffed finds a Haze look-alike right down to the car he drives. Shoats starts up his own campaign to save the souls of the needy, and extract a few bills in the process. Haze is incensed and takes drastic action to eliminate the competition. "If you don't hunt it down and kill it, it'll hunt you down and kill you."

Haze's friend acquaintance, Enoch Emery believes he is guided by a spiritual power of his blood. "He had wise blood like his daddy. Enoch is convinced that Haze needs a new Jesus to make his religion complete. He steals a desiccated mummy from where he works, and gives it to Haze. Haze is of course disgusted by the creature and tears it to shreds. Enoch, a few cards short of a full deck, missed the point that it was the Church WITHOUT Christ.

When Haze discovers that Preacher Asa Hawks faked his own blindness I could swear I heard the last snaps of the ropes holding Motes's mind in place come loose. "He had the feeling that everything he saw was a broken-off piece of some giant blank thing that he had forgotten had happened to him." Motes felt the loss of the "blind" preacher acutely, and decided there was only one recourse for him to achieve a new awareness. He becomes a martyr. He blinds himself with lye. He puts glass and rocks in his shoes and wraps barbed wire around his chest. As it turns out Haze, as suspected, is not an atheist, but actually has more in common with the most fanatical of the religious ranks, the Flagellants than he does with atheism.

This is a fast read, with more humor than what I expressed in this review. O'Connor pokes a stick at the twisted black parts of our minds, and lets them loose in her fiction. Like everything I've read by her I came away from the experience a little queasy, my convictions stirred up, and feeling the overpowering urge to go hug a puppy.

Like I said at the beginning it wasn't as if Hazel Motes had much of chance. He thrashed away at life trying desperately to escape, trying to see his way clear to a new existence, a higher calling, and freer life. He took away his vision, but to Haze, by doing so, he opened up more possibilities.

"Do you think, Mr. Motes," his landlady asked hoarsely, "that when you're dead you're blind?"
"I hope so," he said after a minute.
"Why?" she asked, staring at him.
After a while he said, "If there's no bottom in your eyes, they hold more."

If you wish to see more of my most recent book and movie reviews, visit http://www.jeffreykeeten.com
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Profile Image for Lisa.
977 reviews3,327 followers
May 28, 2018
Oh Jesus! I feel compelled to cry out, thus involuntarily showing my cultural heritage that comes out in everyday language despite growing up and living among atheists without any relation to the creation myths of Christianity.

This book is horrible, and very, very well written. Describing the ugly reality of a young man, Hazel Motes, who is deeply tainted by the moral preaching of a church he tries to shake off, it offers a panorama of confused, scared, aggressive people. They all try to make their own ideas more valid by forcing them upon others, using the persuasive, abusive, violent vocabulary of missionary Christianity, as well as its notion that there is only one truth in the world, and they themselves are in possession of it and have every right to impose it on others and even commit crimes as long as they are within the realm of their conviction.

The intention of the novel evades me. Does the author want to show the hollow and and immoral essence of religion? Or of atheism? It is populated with people who are too narrow-minded to see more than two possibilities: Church of Christ, or Church Without Christ. In both scenarios, the definitions of sin, redemption, preaching and mission stay the same, as do the means to spread the (Anti-)Church’s messages. Hazel Motes is convinced to be an atheist, but he in fact creates an exact mirror of the religion within which he was growing up. Sadly, that means he is not free at all, but retains everything he rejects, in a negative affirmation.

When catastrophe occurs, it leaves me sad, seeing an eternal vicious circle of angry, righteous people continuing to pester each other with Christianity’s arrogant absolutism, or its antithesis. In a way, it reminded me of Marilynne Robinson’s Home, a novel written in beautiful prose, delivering realistic portraits of people who do not see that it is possible not only NOT to believe in Christianity’s dogma, but also to be quite happy, and free of guilt outside its limits. In Robinson’s as in O’Connor’s world, you can be an atheist, but you are a distinctly CHRISTIAN atheist committing the SIN of NON-BELIEF, and you stay within the boundaries of Christianity’s ancient morality and mythical foundations. There is an implication of ethical failure in atheism. You are surely marked by hell, even if you do not believe in it. In Home, the main character keeps apologising incessantly for not living up to the Christian values, and in "Wise Blood", Hazel Motes lives Christianity by challenging its teachings, like a two-year-old doing exactly what mummy told him not to do.

For me, it was hard to identify with that mindset, but I do acknowledge the irony and wit with which the author illustrated a quite common scenario within monolithic, monotheistic communities. No real detachment is possible from a religion that has immersed itself in every single facet of daily life and even in the language used to describe feelings.

I listened to an outstanding audio book version, and sometimes the aggressive shouting and yelling became almost unbearable, making the latent violence in the characters more evident still than if I had read it silently, skimming through the rants.

As for the comical effects: I could not enjoy them, having seen too much demagoguery and cheap propaganda work out beautifully in the past couple of years. Too dangerous at the moment to be funny. Maybe I will change my mind about that.
Profile Image for Adina ( A lot of catching up to do) .
826 reviews3,242 followers
June 14, 2022
Jesus! What a strange book. One guy who lost his faith starts the Church without Christ. The novel gathers some strange characters. The writing is sometimes in jest, other times surreal. I appreciated the novel more than I enjoyed it so I went for the middle rating.
Profile Image for Michael Finocchiaro.
Author 3 books5,546 followers
April 29, 2018
Wise Blood is Flannery O'Connor's first book and it is a beautiful, brutal work of art. We are introduced to Hazel Motes on a train with his army-issued duffel bag being annoying by the woman next to him on the train. He is completely dislocated, as we see in the first sentence:
"Hazel Motes sat at a forward angle on the green plush train seat, looking one minute at the window as if he might want to jump out of it, and the next down the aisle at the end of the car."
He is on the border between this life and some other death:
"In his half sleep he though he was lying was like lying in a coffin."
We would probably nowadays recognize him as a victim of PTSD, but in this book, he just seems eternally lost. He refuses to communicate with the overly-talkative Mrs. Hitchcock in the train and instead gets obsessed with the black porter who claims to be from Chicago but whom Hazel believes is from his own hometown Eastrod. He had previously visited there and discovered that his house was destroyed, decayed, obliterated and his mother and any other family or earthly attachment simply gone.

He goes to "the city" which turns out to be a dead end small town called Taulkinham where he meets the other primary characters in the story: the blind preacher with his 15y old daughter Sabbath, the listless and probably retarded if not insane Enoch, and the shyster Hoover Shoats. He immediately sees through the blind preacher's lack of belief and starts the Church Without Christ after buying a "rat-colored" car completely unfit for the road.

The atmosphere in the novel is that of the religiously obsessive South and the language reminds one of O'Connor's primary influences: William Faulkner. Her unique style is quieter than Faulkner's, preferring to describe in detail the absurdities of life in the "city" and the completely erratic psyches of her characters. The narrative frame shifts from Hazel to Sabbath to Enoch back and forth before settling on his forlorn landlady, Mrs. Flood. Ultimately, none of the characters really achieves salvation or relief in the bleakness of their lives. One wonders however if Hazel gets some kind of enlightenment towards the end when he says, "If there's no bottom in your eyes, they hold more."

I think that Ms. O'Connor was trying to show that in the insane acts of Hazel (which include murder) and his ultimate mimicry of the blind preacher, that truth cannot be obtained by looking for it in others (as both Enoch and Sabbath and Mrs. Flood do with their devotion to Hazel at various times in the book), but can only come from oneself. As Mrs. Flood observes at the end of the book,
She sat staring with her eyes shut, into his eyes, and felt as if she had finally got to the beginning of something she couldn't begin, and she saw him moving farther and farther away, father and farther into the darkness until he was the pin point of light."
I read this book in high school and was blown away (having been myself raised in a Southern religious atmosphere to a degree, and found this second reading four decades later to be as illuminating and engrossing as I before. O'Connor sadly did not write very much, but what she did write contains a universe of sentiment and pain that is rarely evoked with such realism and as pitiless a gaze. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Ahmad Sharabiani.
9,566 reviews56.6k followers
March 12, 2022
(Book 522 from 1001 books) - Wise Blood, Flannery O’Connor

Wise Blood is the first novel by American author Flannery O'Connor, published in 1952.

Recently discharged from service in World War II and surviving on a government pension for unspecified battle wounds, Hazel Motes returns to his family home in Tennessee to find it abandoned. Leaving behind a note claiming a chifforobe as his private property, Motes boards a train for Taulkinham.

The grandson of a traveling preacher, Motes grew up struggling with doubts regarding salvation and original sin; following his experiences at war, Motes has become an avowed atheist and intends to spread a gospel of anti religion. Despite his aversion to all trappings of Christianity, he constantly contemplates theological issues and finds himself compelled to purchase a suit and hat that cause others to mistake him for a minister.

شهود - فلنری اوکانر (نشر نو) ادبیات آمریکا؛ تاریخ نخستین خوانش روز نوزدهم ماه نوامبر سال1989میلادی

عنوان: شهود؛ نویسنده: فلانری اوکانر؛ مترجم: آذر عالی پور؛ تهران، نشر نو، سال1367؛ در236ص؛ چاپ دیگر تهران، نشر دنیای نو، سال1382؛ شابک9646564763؛ در216ص؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان ایالات متحده آمریکا - سده20م

اثر را سرکار خانم «آذر عالی پور»، مترجم رسمی دادگستری، در سال1367هجری خورشیدی ترجمه کرده اند؛ داستان «شهود (خون خردمندانه)» درباره ی جوانی به نام «هیزل موتس» است، که به تازگی با پایان جنگ جهانی دوم به خانه برگشته، و به محل زندگی قدیمی خویش که اکنون متروکه شده میرود؛ این شهر برای او یادآور یادمانهای بگذشته ی ایشان است، او ��ر خانواده ای مذهبی بزرگ شده، و پدربزرگش یک مُبلغ مذهبی بوده، ولی «هیزل» اکنون یک بی دین است و تصمیم میگیرد دینی بدون مسیح را پرآوازه کند و…؛

داستانی به سبک «گوتیک نو»، و با فضاهای ناباورانه و شوم است؛ فضای «گوتیک» به هیچوجه برای ایجاد هیجان، یا هراس آفریده نشده است؛ نویسنده خوانشگر را، آگاهانه به فضاهای خنده دار، و جنون آمیز میکشاند، تا بینش خویش را، درباره ی پیش پا افتادگی جامعه ی شهری، و بی بند و باری، و بیخیالی، و گمگشتگی مردمان را، به خوانشگرش بنمایاند؛ این رمان در اصل با نگرش فلسفی و عرفانی نگارش شده است؛ قهرمان رمان، دچار آشتی ناپذیری اندیشه ی خویش، درباره ی «مسیحیت» است؛ تضادی که همانند موجودی سمج، در ژرفای ذهن او، نهفته شده است، و لحظه ای او را، آرام نمیگذارد؛ «هیزل موتس» قهرمان داستان، آغاز به فاشگویی دیدگاه خویش، در میان مردمان میکند، در حالیکه خود، همچنان سردرگم و پریشان است؛ نویسنده ی کتاب، اصالت قهرمان خود را، در تلاش وی، برای رهایی از آشفتگی فکری میدانند

تاریخ بهنگام رسانی 22/02/1400هجری خورشیدی، 20/12/1400هجری خورشیدی؛ ا. شربیانی
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,425 reviews3,392 followers
January 28, 2020
Ever since The Ship of Fools by Sebastian Brant and Praise of Folly by Erasmus the human foolishness keeps disturbing our minds.
“The only way to the truth is through blasphemy, but do you care?”

With her everlasting masterpiece Wise Blood Flannery O'Connor managed to add to this fertile theme truckloads of new stuff.
Wise Blood is a detailed story of fools’ misadventures and misfortunes.
He had left it when he was eighteen years old because the army had called him. He had thought at first he would shoot his foot and not go. He was going to be a preacher like his grandfather and a preacher can always do without a foot. A preacher’s power is in his neck and tongue and arm.

These are solid beliefs of the protagonist.
Sometimes he didn’t think, he only wondered; then before long he would find himself doing this or that, like a bird finds itself building a nest when it hasn’t actually been planning to.

And these are behaviour patterns of his loyal satellite.
When one hasn’t enough intellect to think one starts using instincts of one’s wise blood…
Flannery O'Connor stays completely unsympathetic and wittily murderous all the way through the novel.
Society needs its fools with all their foolish ways otherwise there would be no scapegoats.
Profile Image for BlackOxford.
1,081 reviews68.1k followers
February 2, 2018
Hapless Irony

Flannery O'Connor was a woman who knew her world. Not just the gentile facade of a world but the nits and grits and dirt under the finger nails world of poor black folk and edgy white trash, of the huckster and the street beggar, the good ole boy and the smug gossip, the person of faith and the person of lost faith, the arch prostitute and her bumbling client. They are misfits, defectives, near-psychotics, needy obsessives, fanatics.

O'Connor knew how these people act in this world, and how they speak, and, more important, what they are completely unaware and incapable of. They don't know how to act and speak in many circumstances. Not necessarily because they are uneducated or inexperienced but because the culture of which they are a part demands their role of ignorance and ineptitude. It's in their blood. They have a place and best stay put.

Call it the Old South for convenience or American Gothic for legitimacy. But this world is the one in which we all live. We might shiver a bit at the casual racism of a Hazel Motes, or chuckle at his use of a toilet wall in a public convenience as a local yellow pages. Nonetheless, our everyday language is equally thoughtless. And the evening television news is hardly any less gossip-ridden and tawdry than the scrawls in the average men's room. Enoch Emery's pointless attachment to Haze and his bizarre interpretation of what's needed to help him succeed are symptoms of an insanity equally evident in recent American political rallies.

The suspicion-laden, functionally autistic interactions we have every day - on public transport, walking down the street, in run of the mill commercial transactions - are essentially no different from those of O’Connor’s country bumpkins. But this is how she gets us to pay attention to them, by using the bumpkins and rubes to make her point fairly painlessly. But that point is no less clear as a consequence: no one escapes life undamaged; and the damage only gets repaired through other (damaged) folk.

Despite the apparent horror of the book, it is her underlying, soft, meticulously articulated irony that makes O'Connor so hypnotically attractive to me. A rusted iron glove filled with scented cotton rather than a fist. But oh what an after-effect. The blow comes after one stops reading. Understanding comes without an argument but through her so precise hints and suggestions. What unites us as human beings is not some abstract essence or capacity but a thorough-going and fateful haplessness. Through her we become conscious of being subject to the vagaries of our time and place. Paradoxically, it is an appreciation of this haplessness - not religious belief or its absence - that offers freedom.
Profile Image for Julie G .
884 reviews2,753 followers
May 12, 2020
Reading Road Trip 2020

Current location: Tennessee

“I don't have to run from anything because I don't believe in anything.”

I did a lot of babysitting, in the mid-80s. I was a young teen, not dating yet, and I was enamored with children. Families who wanted me as their sitter would frequently try and secure me for that coveted Saturday night date night by offering all types of perks. The family that finally earned my loyalty for that regular Saturday night commitment for several years was the one that offered two children who went to bed easily, a fresh box of my favorite type of Entenmann's doughnuts. . . and HBO.

To be honest, the doughnuts and the premium movie channel were all I wanted. I wasn't even interested in my hourly pay. As soon as those little darlings would rub their eyes and head to bed, I'd grab one perfectly formed chocolate glazed doughnut, then curl up in my favorite recliner and tune in to 2-4 hours of soft porn, inappropriate stand-up routines, and vulgar comedies. God, it was heaven.

It was there on that recliner that I first discovered Porky's, then Porky's Revenge!, The Last American Virgin, and Fast Times at Ridgemont High (among others). Not to mention Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy, and Richard Pryor. Then, one night, it was there on that recliner that I mistakenly discovered Looking for Mr. Goodbar.

I remember it all too well. I thought I had signed up for a fun evening of full-frontal nudity and some groovy disco moves, but instead I got. . . the end of the world as I knew it.

Innocence lost. . . forever. Poof!

I swear to you, I remember exactly how I was sitting up, rigid, on that brown recliner chair when my employers entered the room to drive me home.

I didn't talk to them, was unable to focus on the money they gave me, and I couldn't close my eyes to sleep properly for days. Before that movie, I hadn't known that life could be so cruel for some people, so violent or shocking. I hadn't known that a man could ever do to a woman what that man did to that woman in Goodbar (based on a true story, by the way).

It's devastating, but true. . . our society has sociopaths peppered throughout it. Some are just malcontents and misanthropes, but others are rapists and killers with zero conscience.

And, sorry to tell you folks, but most of these types are men.

Annie Proulx and Alice Walker write about these men, so they've either known more than their share or their experiences here on earth have influenced their vision.

But, who would have guessed that a young woman named Flannery O'Connor knew about these types of men, already, in 1949, and had the chops to write about them?

Damn it, Ms. O'Connor. Just thinking about you handing this to your editor at the age of 27, at the end of the 1940s makes me shake.

I could feel the power of the story from the first page and I could sense, intuitively, the influence that this 236 page book has had on both modern novel writing and filmmaking.

This is a startling and terrifying story filled with sociopaths, all, and only two missteps at the novel's end reduced it from a five to a four star read for me. But, truly, it is almost perfect.

I can not recommend it enough to all writers and riders of the edge.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,864 reviews523 followers
February 16, 2023
The universe of Flannery O'Connor, born in the South of the United States, is dark, prosaic, and supernatural. In this novel, written in 1952, the main character, Hazel Motes, in his twenties and the son of a pastor, returns from the Second World War. He discovers his village had abandoned and becomes the church's preacher without Christ. His career puts him in touch with a simple-minded person who hides a great secret within him, a false blind man preaching the good word and his daughter, Sabbath, prematurely corrupted by misery—still, the only novelist to endowing with lucidity. Half crooks, half mystics, all these characters search for an absolute that stubbornly hides behind their horizon.
At the start of the reading, the precise and colorful style of Flannery O'Connor used humor and mockery of a dull everyday life, to the point of being desperate. But we gradually fall into a complex reality, a little crazy and disturbing, like the heavenly and miserable atmosphere in which the poor whites bathe, abandoned to the dereliction of an unbridled religiosity and the implacable rigor of solitude. And destitution.
Yet their quest continues unabated until deliverance. Will this fact be continued to find?
Flannery O'Connor, the Catholic author in a Protestant world, sculpts texts with astonishing freedom of metaphysical questioning. However, there is no doubt that Hazel Motes, despite his aggressive atheism, is not the staggering spokesperson.
She is undoubtedly one of the masters of American literature.
Profile Image for Mark André .
112 reviews237 followers
August 11, 2020
A very strange book. Weird and disturbing. Not for everyone. Still a masterpiece.
Profile Image for Mark André .
112 reviews237 followers
July 22, 2021
One of the most wonderful, disturbing stories ever told. I have never been so discombobulated by a book. Wild, audacious, bizarre, outrageous fun. Not for all audiences.
Profile Image for Fabian.
947 reviews1,564 followers
December 5, 2017
Certainly the "Blue Velvet" in the literary realm, "Wise Blood" has an OVERWHELMING SIMPLICITY that seems truly out of this world. O'Connor expertly places all these annoying wind-up toys near each other--see them bump and grind and sometimes line up in a maniacal precision that repeats and repeats-- and what we get is a very complex nightmare, almost hitting the true nerve of (my personal champion of all literary categories) Southern Goth. It is true brethren to the Faulkner's masterpiece, "As I Lay Dying"--a true mesh of the best of Pynchon (the most iconographic that is), the silliest of Beckett, er, maybe Pinter, & (why not?) the most macabre of Hawthorne... but a true original by All rights.

P.S. The creepiness of the main, I would label, "monolith"--that is, the shriveled man in the MVSEVM--is in itself ingenious & I totally head-over-heels love it!!!!
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,929 reviews10.6k followers
August 12, 2016
Fresh from a stint in the army, Hazel Motes starts a religion out of spite and gets entangled with a preacher named Asa Hawks and his teenage daughter, Sabbath.

I recently read the exquisite The Summer that Melted Everything and kept thinking of Flannery O'Connor. I already had this on my Kindle so I gave it a shot.

Wise Blood is the tale of Hazel Motes and his crisis of faith. Something happened during the war that shattered Hazel Motes' childhood dream of being a preacher and now he's taking it out on the rest of the world. While running around generally being an asshole, he encounters colorful characters like Enoch Emery, the boy with the Wise Blood of the title, Asa Hawks and his daughter, and Hoover Shoates, a con-man who knows a good thing when he sees it.

I'd say Wise Blood was the Rise and Fall of Hazel Motes but there wasn't much of a rise. Maybe The Continued Decline of Hazel Motes would be more appropriate. The book starts out bleak and just keeps getting bleaker. However, there were some laughs despite the bleakness, many of them at Enoch Emery's expense.

Flannery O'Connor writes some powerful stuff. Her writing reminds me of Jim Thompson's, whom she probably had angry sex with up against a dumpster behind a bar at some point.

Wise Blood's tale of religious obsession made me uncomfortable at times. However, I didn't think Wise Blood was nearly as good as her short story collection A Good Man is Hard to Find and Other Stories. Her short stories were much more focused and quicker to the punch. Three out of five stars.
Profile Image for Felice Laverne.
Author 1 book3,204 followers
August 5, 2019
"…that church where the blind don’t see and the lame don’t walk and what’s dead stays that way. Ask me about that church and I’ll tell you it’s the church that the blood of Jesus don’t foul with redemption...there was no Fall because there was nothing to fall from and no Redemption because there was no Fall and no Judgment because there wasn’t the first two. Nothing matters but that Jesus was a liar…”

Wise Blood is the story of Hazel Motes, a recently discharged twenty-something war vet who returns home to Tennessee to find the town abandoned and his childhood home dilapidated and deserted. So, he leaves the town behind and takes a train to Taulkinham, where he meets the crude, ignorant and possibly OCD/mentally ill Enoch Emery. Together, they encounter a blind preacher turned sometimes street beggar, Asa Hawks, and his 15-year-old daughter, Sabbath (her name in itself an ironic play on the themes of this novel). Motes becomes entangled with the Hawks’ as he embarks on the notion of atheism and—fully embracing it partially out of resistance to Asa Hawks’ idea that Motes needs to repent for his sins—starts his own church, the Church Without Christ. As he starts preaching his message of salvation through truth from the nose of his old car, he encounters a street-preaching swindler, Hoover Shoats, who steals Motes’ idea of the Church Without Christ and uses it to get rich, also preaching a varied version of that message on the streets, which effectively pushes Motes out of his own market and idea. When he finds out that Asa Hawks is also a crook, he takes up with his daughter, who proclaims of him: “I said look at those pee-can eyes and go crazy, girl! That innocent look don’t hide a thing, he’s just pure filthy right down to the guts, like me. The only difference is I like being that way and he don’t. Soon after, Motes’ disillusionment starts its descent into completeness, as a series of events pushes him to enraged murder and finally to self-mutilization and recluseness. Meanwhile, Enoch Emery’s story line branches off into him becoming enamored with, and then literally turning into, a gorilla, which came off as a little slapstick in its presentation and fell flat for me as a whole.

Wise Blood seemed to hit the ground running toward something definite and profound from the very first page. Rushing toward an abandoned home in Tennessee, then rushing toward Hazel Motes’ warped coming-of-age prophecy of atheism and a “new jesus” (yes, lowercase). O’Connor hit on salient, hard-hitting moments of ironic verity and outright cultural authenticity in true Southern Gothic fashion: Christianity versus atheism in the post-war South, Christian hypocrisy, redemption, isolation, and coming of age. In that way, it had its moments of dazzling literary insight. The characters were, for the most part, well realized, each offering a necessary ingredient to this Gothic tradition. And yet.

A little-known fact of this this novel is that it was originally not a novel at all but a collection of short stories (published in various publications). The first chapter of Wise Blood was an expanded version of Flannery O’Connor’s Master’s thesis, and several of the other chapters were reworked versions that she revised so that they could all fit together as a novel. Hence, Wise Blood was born, but the thing is, it didn’t work 100% as a fluid work of literature. For the most part, it did. For the most part, this novel read as a cohesive story with fully realized narrative arcs and satirical if not poignant realizations throughout. Yet, Enoch Emery’s character dragged down the latter part of the novel, because the short story that he derived from, "Enoch and the Gorilla," did not fit with the theme of the rest of the novel. It felt disparate, like it didn’t belong, which, of course, is true since it was originally a separate short story, but it should not have felt that way to the reader.

O’Connor’s use of vernacular was spectacular.

The sense of setting was complete.

And yet, though we make a habit of saying here in the South, “One monkey don’t stop no show,” in this case, it certainly did. 3.5 stars ***


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Profile Image for Zoeytron.
1,036 reviews671 followers
April 3, 2018
Haze Motes.  Visionary or false prophet?  Look closer, he may simply be a tortured soul who has lost his faith.  He believes he is beyond redemption, and wouldn't care to have it anyway.     

Enoch Emery, he of the wise blood.  Taking chances on the meaning of things.  Mayhap he is the visionary, more probably he is just desperate for a friend.    

Having grown up hearing the country dialect used here, I will say it was pitch perfect.  Published in 1952, this novel is almost as old as I am.  Sadly, I was not able to sync up with it, and fear I may have missed the point of the whole exercise.  Interesting characters, though.
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,196 reviews9,479 followers
October 8, 2018
I think it was Jerry Lee Lewis who says you can be hot or you can be cold but if you are lukewarm the Lord God Jehovah will spew you from his mouth. If that is so Hazel Motes will be okay, he will be unspewed because there is pretty much no moment in Wise Blood when he is not white hot with rage and spouting fiery blasphemy

As for the Jesus who was reported to have been born at Bethlehem and crucified on Calvary for man’s sins, Haze said, He was too foul a notion for a sane person to carry in his head.

Hazel Motes came back from the war with a brain that wasn’t working properly but you could tell he wasn’t no Dietrich Bonhoeffer before he went. Now I know he got up on the bonnet of his car and yelled to the people about The Church of Christ Without Christ but fair play, I have found in my own life that it’s really quite easy to find yourself drifting into blasphemical speech without much intending to. It don’t take a lot of effort. Take my conversations with God for instance. Maybe I hadn’t mentioned this before but he visits me quite regularly to make sure Goodreads is still treating me okay. I say sure, the food’s still good and the view from here is spectacular. And really all they ask is a couple of reviews a week, it’s not much. The rest of the time here is my own. Some of the others, mind you, they complain a lot – that Manny, he never stops moaning, but God says it’s not them I worry about, it’s you. I say you don’t have to worry about me, he says well, you know that’s not really true, and I say can’t we please change the subject? And he says well, what do you want to talk about? And I always say come on, tell me about what it was like in the good old days, when you created the Universe. And he says it weren’t just one Universe, you know. No sir. No siree. And then he gets that faraway look and starts off reminiscing. You shoulda seen me in those days, he says, I was really on a roll. I was creating universes – whole ones, mind – just like – boom! There’s one – bam! – there’s another. So slick it would have made your eyes water. Before you could say Jack Robinson whamm! Another universe. And you know, all of them with completely different fundamental physical properties! And that ain’t easy. He loves to get technical. So why so many anyway? I ask. Oh I was young and excitable I suppose, I was trying new stuff. Now I think I’d struggle with the simplest thing. Probably fumble over every Hugo Boss particle! Did I crack that joke before? I tell him he always cracks that joke. He says, you know, you forget things. It’s kinda sad. So all these universes, a lot of them are getting rickety now, I can’t afford the maintenance. I do a bit of fixing up at the weekends, but man, I need my rest. I say, is that what you call entropy? Can’t keep up the maintenance? He says well, I’m trying to keep this conversation simple. Give me a break now. I asked him about Jesus. I said so did all of these universes get a Jesus? He says what? every single sentient race on every one a them damn planets got one. So many Jesuses, honest, I couldn't keep track. Jesuses all over the place. So to answer your question - yeah. I said so did all the Jesuses get crucified? He said can't we please change the subject?

Wise Blood is like a novel written by a person who wants to demonstrate that most people who lived in the southern states of the USA were borderline crazy or actual crazy and it’s quite okay to laugh at them till your sides ache. If I came from Tennessee or Georgia or Alabama I would not be having Flannery O’Connor over for dinner, no matter that she did die of something terrible at age 39. Also Wise Blood seems to be written by a person who thinks religion is for stupid people and it’s okay to have a laugh about that too. And this is confusing because I know Flannery was a very devout person. So whatever this novel is trying to tell me about religion went right over my head, whizz, gone. I have no idea what the point is. (I asked God and he said yeah, that Hazel Motes. What in hell was he on, huh?) But I love Wise Blood! It’s so funny. Nobody would dare write it now.
Profile Image for Perry.
632 reviews516 followers
December 20, 2018
"People who haven't grown up in the South, in the Bible Belt particularly, have little understanding of how much a part of the fabric of Southern life religion is." Barry Moser

This novel, I don't mind saying, spooked me a bit. I couldn't finish it for the longest time. I'm sure there are deeper meanings that I can't get to due to the Southern-surreal grotesquery.

I attribute my reaction to either growing up in the South or seeing Hollywood's grotesque depictions of Southerners in general. In any case, such grotesque representations are a signature of Southern gothic novels such as this one as well as of O'Connor's short stories. Visualize, if you will, the killer from the Louisiana swamps in the first season of HBO's "True Detective."

With all frankness, I've gone places--always only once--where I walked among people, right out of O'Connor fiction, and heard them converse. I am pretty sure I'll have a bad dream tonight involving greasy, edentate, odorous, hirsute, ferret-eyed folks. Mind you, I'm not saying that I'm unique in experiencing these dueling-banjo people.

I can think of two types of places off the top of my head to find them, depending on which kind you wanna catch. First, and most obvious to Yankees, is a big tent revival. The other, as "spectators" at a deep sea fishing rodeo--fishing tourney-such as those held each summer along the gulf coast. As to the latter, they are attracted by dollar beer, boats they can't afford, smelly fish caught by people who own boats, and sway-stop bikini tops (or not) that strain reliantly against gravity. Walking upon the crowd is very much like sneaking into a long-abandoned wooden house at midnight, flipping on all the lights and watching the critters go.

Wise Blood was Flannery O'Connor's first novel, in 1952, and is relatively representative of her work in its use of humor, dialect and irony and stressing the grotesque. I might say it's a bolder than many of her short stories.

In it, Hazel Motes makes a religion, an obsession, out of denying the doctrine of Christianity. A war vet, he takes a bus to Taulkinham, Tennessee to preach his brand of antireligion, that later is made into the "Church of Christ Without Christ, where the blind stay blind, the lame stay lame, and them that's dead stays that way."

He gets a follower in a manic 18-year-old zookeeper, Enoch Emery, who introduces Motes to the idea of "wise blood," a self-reliance, anti-spiritual concept. Enoch eventually steals a mummified dwarf from the zoo's museum to give Motes for his ministry. Then, out on his own, Enoch steals a gorilla costume under surreal circumstances.

For a short time, Motes is drawn to a blind street preacher named Asa Hawks and his teen daughter Sabbath Lily Hawks. He wishes to defile Sabbath, but loses interest when he finds she is attracted to him.

It pretty much goes downhill for Motes from there. Upon the 10th anniversary publication in 1962, O'Connor wrote that the book is about freedom, free will, life and death and the inevitability of belief. As W.C. Fields quipped, "Everybody's got to believe in something. I believe I'll have another beer.

It is bizarro, man.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
June 23, 2022
“I preach there are all kinds of truth, your truth and somebody else's, but behind all of them, there's only one truth and that is that there is no truth. . .”

Wise Blood (1952) is the first novel of Flannery O’Connor, one of the great short story writers of the twentieth century. The Guardian said in 2000 that this was among the top 100 novels of the twentieth-century; I don’t know about that, but it has some great writing in it. It was created in part by mashing together four short stories O’Connor wrote while she was in the MFA program at Iowa, and to my mind, it doesn’t quite work as well as each individual story. But I still loved it and laughed aloud a few times at its colorful characters and dark humor.

I read this novel many years ago but decided to listen to it because it was read by Bronson Pinchot, whose audio work I know and love, and was not disappointed. He’s amazing. I was imagining what it might be like to read this book and have no experience whatsoever with religion or the US South, maybe especially in the middle of the twentieth century, and I thought, you would just think this is bizarre, crazy. All these people are insane, obsessed about religion! Flannery O’Connor is known for what is known as the Southern gothic, and the southern “grotesque;” she felt compelled in her introduction to the second edition of Wise Blood to disabuse all the secular critics of the book of the notion that everyone in this book is merely nuts:

“That belief in Christ is to some a matter of life and death has been a stumbling block for readers who would prefer to think it a matter of no great consequence.”

They miss the point, O'Connor insists; while she acknowledges that the book is a comedy, she makes it clear that there has to be serious issues driving every comic work, and hers pertain to her belief that faith is not something you can just reject. Hazel Motes (as in someone who sees through haze, and has a mote in his eye) does everything he can to reject what is in his heart, that he actually underneath it all believes in Jesus.

" I knew when I first seen you you didn't have nobody nor nothing but Jesus"--Enoch Emery, to Hazel

To resist this perception Hazel decides to create the Church of Christ Without Christ:

“I'm a member and preacher to that church where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way.”

But ultimately, O’Connor’s point is that “Faith is what someone knows to be true, whether they believe it or not.”

Or more pointedly, as she says in an essay,

“I am no disbeliever in spiritual purpose and no vague believer. I see from the standpoint of Christian orthodoxy. This means that for me the meaning of life is centred in our redemption by Christ and what I see in the world I see in its relation to that.”

So you can imagine her frustration to read again and again that non-religious reviewers for many years lumped Hazel with all the false prophets she makes fun of in this book. As she says somewhere, “If the Eucharist is just a symbol, then I say the Hell with it.”

Flannery O'Connor, who died in 1964 at the age of 39 from complications from Lupus, was the winner of the National Book Award for 1972 for her Collected Stories, and to my mind, she deserved it. The stories are bizarre and hilarious and exhilarating. And her metaphors and similes throughout

“It began to drizzle rain and he turned on the windshield wipers; they made a great clatter like two idiots clapping in church.”

This novel, evolved out of one and then three more stories she was working on for her MFA at the University of Iowa, feature the deluded Hazel Motes and a lot of wild and equally deluded people, mostly false prophets--I thought of Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry--such as Asa Hawks (and his fifteen-year-old daughter Sabbath Lily Hawks) and other weird characters such as zookeeper Enoch Emory. Asa is a false prophet who pretends that he has blinded himself in order to prove to people he can see The Truth. Lily is fifteen, is deserted by her father, and who wants to live with Motes. Emory introduces Motes to the concept of "wise blood," an idea that he has innate, worldly knowledge of what direction to take in life, and requires no spiritual or emotional guidance.

Hazel, along the way, meets Onnie Jay Holy, a local con artist, who forms his own ministry, the similarly named "Holy Church of Christ Without Christ," too. Competing street preachers! The conclusion has horror in it, but as O’Connor sees it, Motes, now blind, can actually “see” the truth. The notion of vision is central to this book.

I like the stories better, but I love her writing:

"Every fourth Saturday he had driven into Eastrod as if he were just in time to save them all from Hell."

"The black sky was underpinned with long silver streaks that looked like scaffolding and depth on depth behind it were thousands of stars that all seemed to be moving very slowly as if they were about some vast construction work that involved the whole order of the universe and would take all time to complete."

"He got up and began to walk down the street as if he were led by a silent melody or one of those whistles that only dogs hear. "

“The highway was ragged with filling stations and trailer camps and roadhouses. After a while, there were stretches where red gulleys dropped off on either side of the road, and behind them there were patches of field buttoned together with 666 posts. The sky leaked over all of it, and then it began to leak into the car. The head of a string of pigs appeared snout-up over the ditch, and he had to screech to a stop and watch the rear of the last pig disappear shaking into the ditch on the other side. He started the car again and went on. He had the feeling that everything he saw was a broken-off piece of some giant blank thing that he had forgotten had happened to him.”

I saw the 1979 movie by John Huston, featuring Brad Dourif as Hazel, and I liked it. But in recommend you check out this bizarre novel, driven by comic Southern grotesque characters.
Profile Image for Mark André .
112 reviews237 followers
November 27, 2021
One of the true thrills of a reading lifetime!
Proceed unawares, be surprised.
It’ll kick you ass!
What fun! - )
Profile Image for mark monday.
1,645 reviews5,105 followers
October 30, 2013
UPDATED REVIEW... of the film!

John Huston's 1979 adaptation of O'Connor's cult novel was one of my favorite films growing up, which is probably more evidence of why I should not be wandering around in public. I just re-watched it this afternoon and am happy to report that the magic is mainly still there.

so demented Hazel Motes returns from the army, still haunted by memories of his demented preacher father. he moves to Taulkinham, where a demented young man named Enoch begins following him around. Enoch is obsessed with monkeys, apes, and apelike things. later, Enoch steals a gorilla suit and wanders around town trying to shake people's hand. Hazel moves in with a prostitute and then comes across a not-actually-blind preacher and his demented daughter; he becomes obsessed with them. Hazel starts his own anti-religion. Hazel moves into the same boarding house as the preacher and his daughter; he and the demented daughter begin a relationship of sorts. Hazel gets some competition from a shyster and a demented pseudo-preacher of anti-religion. Hazel murders someone and attempts to leave town. Hazel doesn't get out of town thanks to a demented cop. more demented antics ensue.

although the adaptation is basically a faithful one, Huston does take certain liberties here and there, rearranging and changing a few things in the narrative, but mainly messing with the tone of the story. the O'Connor book is archly (and darkly) comic; the Huston film is broadly comic. the result is that the story is rather less rich than the original material, flattened, turned into a parade of grotesqueries. the emphasis on casually and constantly dropping the n-bomb only amps up the unpleasant weirdness of the movie. and it still somehow works - if you can get into the perverse spirit of it. the only thing I found problematic was Alex North's bluegrass banjo score, which winks way too broadly and just way too much at the audience. well, subtlety has rarely been Huston's forte. check out Night of the Iguana, where Huston is at his least subtle but still manages to concoct an enjoyable film.

the direction itself is stolid. the film is shot in a rather ugly but realistic palette; the camerawork is unfussy and does not bring attention to itself; open spaces are frequently used to show the emptiness of the locale and to isolate the characters in their own little worlds. Huston keeps the visuals plain and distinctly depressing to match the plain and distinctly depressing cityscape. sadly, there are no real cinematic grace notes to make the film student in me want to rewind and ooh & aah. but that's not a real flaw as I can often do without those sorts of things. Huston can make a gorgeous film (e.g. Beat the Devil) but this is just not one of those films.

the movie and the book are concerned with one of my favorite themes: faith. too much of it, a lack of it, how it defines us, how it refines us, how it can be corrupted, how it can be pure. I love thinking on those sorts of matters. Huston's film doesn't seem to have its own perspective on the topic; it just trots out the various characters and leaves it entirely up to the audience to draw their own conclusions. I assume most viewers (and maybe Huston as well) chose to view this as that parade of grotesquerie, a bizarre but still straightforward experience - a freak show. I prefer looking at it in a different way: I see all of the stylized characters' grasping towards or away from faith as different false paths to and away from faith; paths that are false due to each character's particular insecurities and outlooks on life and how to live it. a cautionary tale for the faithful, with multiple cautions in the tale.

the most enjoyable aspect of the film is still the acting. it's a tasty smorgasbord. Huston knows how to direct actors! the performances are all juicy bits of awesomeness. a young and surprisingly attractive Brad Dourif plays the twisted Hazel - and because he is Brad Dourif, he makes that character even more twisted. Daniel Shor (star of the cult classic Strange Behavior) plays Enoch with a sadly pleading face and an off-kilter skip & hop to his stride. Harry Dean Stanton plays the not-blind preacher with a smug, sardonic slyness and an expression of I know what you really are, boy whenever he is paired with Dourif. character actress Amy Wright amps up the eeriness of the preacher's daughter. acting coach (and actor) William Hickey gives his pseudo-preacher an almost unbearably cringing pathos. Huston casts himself as Hazel's father in a couple unsettling flashbacks. my favorite character bit is Ned Beatty's shyster, who oozes a buttery, sugary but loud-mouthed southern charm whenever he appears. the scene where Beatty attempts to get money from a crowd while talking over Dourif is like a fun little acting duel. great scene. great film!


more of young mark monday's favorite films:

The Company of Wolves
Strange Behavior & Strange Invaders (same awesome director)
Johnny Guitar
Night of the Hunter
China 9, Liberty 37
Pennies from Heaven
The Last of Sheila
Underworld U.S.A.
Song of Bernadette
Bloody Mama
Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean Jimmy Dean
Repo Man
Tommy & The Devils & The Boy Friend (ah, Ken Russell)
Beat the Devil
Picnic at Hanging Rock
Marat/Sade (full title: The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade)



Flannery cruelly dissects faith and society's outcasts and the intersection between the two. this is not a woman with a generous view of humanity, which makes it an enjoyable but often depressing experience. despite the modern-gothic subject matter and the occasionally ornate turn of phrase, a swift read. strangely affecting and open to interpretation on different levels. and funny!
Profile Image for William2.
745 reviews2,968 followers
July 27, 2016
Hazel Motes gets out of the army and arbitrarily goes to a generic southern city to play out his damage. He has lost his father and mother and grandfather. While traveling on a sleeper to the city he has a dream in which each in turn manage to spring out of their coffins, miraculously alive. Then he wakes up. He is in a fury at Jesus, presumably for failing him, though his specific anger on the matter is never addressed. A rage burns within him which he cannot satisfy, no matter what he does. Even when he begins the Church Without Christ and begins to "preach" from the hood of his old car. He reminds me of the inarticulate family Naipaul writes about in The Enigma of Arrival, who, because they lack language, can only act out their sufferings in violent ways. To say that Hazel Motes eventually addresses matters through recourse to violence gives nothing away. When reading the closing pages its seems all too, not predictable, but correct, from the standpoint of his character. O'Connor refers to him as Haze, a nickname that captures wonderfully his undirected nature. His last name is Motes, specks of dust in the air, seems an apt metaphor for his lack of direction as well. The book has amazing moments throughout and an adroitly handled suspense grips the reader. Be advised, this book makes liberal use in the early going of the n-word. At first my sense was that O'Connor knew how these people would speak and what words they would use, and these are the words she used. But this seems false when one considers that such persons realistically must have cursed a blue streak, too, yet none of those words made their way into the text. Highly recommended. As important to our southern literature as Faulkner and Welty.
Profile Image for Jenn(ifer).
159 reviews952 followers
July 2, 2012
I have to say, there’s nothing more attractive than a man in a sharp suit.

Hello lovely:


However, Hazel Motes, I think you should fire your tailor. (Maybe you should take some of that money you keep throwing in the trash and buy a new suit. Just sayin’).


All joking aside, I’d like to take a moment to thank Ms. O’Connor for restoring my faith in female authors. Such a shame she died so young; one can only wonder what stories she left untold.

Wise Blood tells the tale of young Hazel Motes, who returns from military service to find he no longer has a place to call home. So he sets out to make a place for himself in the world and decides he wants to start a new religion, The Church Without Christ where he preaches that “the lame don't walk, the blind don't see, and the dead stay dead!” Trouble with Hazel is, to say he’s slightly off balance is like saying the Pope is slightly religious.

Hazel doesn’t seem particularly bothered by the fact that he isn’t winning anyone over with his nightly sermons from the hood of his car. He keeps his faith in nothing and is determined to spread his word. That is until tragedy strikes and it becomes clear that Hazel isn’t so faithless. Seems he believes he could use a little redemption after all.

I haven’t spent much time in The South, and O’Connor’s depiction of it makes me want to stay away. Far away. Pennsylvania is bad enough. It’s made up of Philadelphia and Pittsburg on either end with Kentucky in the middle. The southerners we are introduced to are a band of sinister, nefarious yet strangely fascinating individuals. O’Connor can hold her own writing “creepy” as well as the best of ‘em.

Wise Blood is Flannery O’Connor’s debut novel, and although I thoroughly enjoyed it, it was obvious that she was still a novice. Characters are underdeveloped; plot lines are started and dropped inexplicably. It’s as if she slapped together a bunch of disparate stories and tried to tie them together in a nice little bow, but instead she made a knot. Rookie mistake. Still. More please.

p.s., I really enjoyed Mark's review of this here book. I reckon you'll like it too.
Profile Image for Sara.
Author 1 book489 followers
June 21, 2018
Just couldn't do this. I sometimes find it difficult to overcome things that are obviously repulsive but part of the time in which the book is written, but I can do that when there is something there that overreaches that. This book showed no promise that that was true. Again, drunkenness and prostitution are subjects I can countenance if they contribute to some greater meaning in the story...didn't see it.

I am bailing, after having several trusted friends tell me there wasn't going to be any improvement. Can't win them all, although this month I have really been having a bad run. I was disappointed, because I have previously always found the substance in O'Connor to overcome the flaws.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
614 reviews763 followers
August 15, 2011
Could we have a separate rating system please? One that is not concerned with whether we like a book or not? I was going to give this one five stars 'It was amazing' but amazing is not quite the word. Appalling. Perturbing. Perplexing, yes, but not amazing in the positive sense. And now I decide to give it only one star, to say no, I did not like this reading experience. I recognize that O'Connor is not writing to please, she makes no concessions to tired readers who want an uplifting story at the end of the working day, and I'm quite willing to engage with her book intellectually, I'm able to understand that she intends to keep us at arm's length emotionally, so she certainly has achieved what she probably set out to do. But her world view is a deeply distasteful one, at least to a humanist.

In her essay "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction"
O'Connor argues that fiction in her time (1960) has become too much concerned with social, political, economic or psychological determinism, and sees her writing in the tradition of the Romance, pushing out into the mystery that lies beyond those factors, depicting experiences that the ordinary man will never have in ordinary life, "We find that connections which we would expect in the customary kind of realism have been ignored, that there are strange skips and gaps which anyone trying to describe manners and customs would certainly not have left. Yet the characters have an inner coherence, if not always a coherence to their social framework. Their fictional qualities lean away from typical social patterns, toward mystery and the unexpected. It is this kind of realism that I want to consider."
Now I can grasp that she is not concerned with social mores or psychological motivation, but the figures in this novel (and I have a deep reluctance to call them characters) are so dislocated from any kind of recognizable patterns of human behaviour that it is hard to acknowledge them as human beings at all. It seems to me that they are physical manifestations of souls in torment. They are, as O'Connor says, "Christ-haunted"; the fact that Hazel Motes no longer believes in Jesus, but in a world where the dead stay dead, does not in any way change his view that the world must be conceived of in terms of redemption and damnation. So although Jesus no longer is a redemptive figure for him, he cannot escape from the structures imposed by belief in the damned and the saved. Those structures still exist, but are blank, negated, turned upside down. In her note to the second edition O'Connor addresses such readers as myself, who would prefer to think the belief in Christ 'a matter of no great consequence', and assumes that such as me will discover Hazel Motes' integrity in 'his trying with such vigour to get rid of the ragged figure who moves from tree to tree in the back of his mind.' (the metaphor she uses for Christ). But I do not see Haze trying to get rid of that figure at all, he merely replaces it with the negative, the reverse of it.

The grotesque figure is normally defined as one that evokes both empathy and disgust. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, for example, or Shakespeare's Caliban. Physically deformed, but with a humanity that we can feel. For me the figures in this novel are not grotesque in that sense, they are monsters that induce only a feeling of disgust. There is no detectable humanity here, at least none that speaks to my idea of human. That may be a failing on my part, an inability to empathize with the torment of a 'soul' that has lost religion, as, to me, these are empty concepts. So maybe my distaste is exactly what O'Connor would have liked, to push me into a place where I certainly feel uncomfortable. But what sort of a world is this? Religiosity has turned these people either into lunatics or at least into self-absorbed monsters who would place the responsibility for their lives into the hands of some mystery that they ill understand. Is O'Connor saying that this is religion misunderstood? Or is she saying that's what the religious view of the world does? There is an ambiguity at the centre of this novel that is probably essential to keep it alive.
Profile Image for Mark  Porton.
385 reviews326 followers
May 20, 2020
Wise Blood The first book written by Flannery O’Connor is a book I decided to read without knowing anything about it. I have found it incredibly difficult to write any sort of review about this book and I have deliberately avoided reading the reviews of others so as not to be influenced. So here goes, for the umpteenth time…..

I wondered what this story was all about from the first page, all I knew was the characters all seemed to be unpleasant types and the image in my mind was all in Black and White for some reason. There were strong tones of racism in this book, ignorance and sexism – the way these people treated each other was abysmal. The setting is also obviously one of poverty populated by a strong religious streak.

The main character Hazel Mote was disturbing, it was like he existed in another world, perhaps he did. His sole focus was to promote his new church, the Church without Christ. Any ‘conversation’ he had with any of the other characters always seemed to be greeted by a criticism of Jesus Christ or him promoting his own faith in atheism.

Interestingly, Mote purchased a rat coloured car, who has ever heard of that? For one thing, it certainly made me stop and think. I reckon it’s brown.

Then there was Enoch Emery, a character so thirsty for external validation and recognition his need had to be insatiable. He also seemed to have delusions he had a calling and a purpose he needed to answer. I felt sorry for him, as he really wanted to befriend Motes, who was only interested in one thing – his memberless atheistic church. Enoch even went to extreme lengths to make him happy. Enter the Mummy, what?? – but that thing did give me some laughs, in a weird sort of way. Enoch also spent a considerable amount of his time, sitting in the bushes leering at women in the public swimming pool. Enough said.

I had this massive feeling of foreboding throughout this book, I was just waiting for unpleasant things to happen.

There were con-men, fake preachers, an ape, a bear, a mummy and a few women who seemed to take a liking to Hazel Motes, he must’ve looked like Richard Gere as he didn’t seem to offer much else.

I’ll leave you with a couple of Hazelisms:

Firstly, his view on redemption: “There’s no peace for the redeemed, and I preach peace, I preach the Church without Christ, the church peaceful and satisfied”.

Secondly, this little gem “Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place. ” I spent considerable time performing mental acrobatics trying to figure that one out.

I must apologise for this ‘review’. I wasn’t going to write one and started re-writing it several times. It is hard to write a review for a book like this, because it is so unusual. Perhaps I should leave books like this to be reviewed by the experts.

A book about hopeless people in hopeless situations. Interesting read though.

3.5 Stars, rounded up for shock, interest and dark comedy 4 Stars
Profile Image for Eddie Watkins.
Author 6 books5,451 followers
October 8, 2014
I suppose Flannery O'Connor must be considered a Christian writer, as she was a Catholic and Christian themes permeate her books, but her imagination was on fire and she knew how to get those flames into her words and that's really all that matters.

Wise Blood is like an upside-down inside-out book about salvation, where professed atheism is faith, blindness is seeing, and rottenness is goodness, and it's all spiced up with tersely vivid bizarre characterizations and situations in an enveloping atmosphere of pungent mystery. If your eyebrows don't go up and your eyes widen when a character finds his particular salvation by hijacking a Hollywood gorilla suit and burying his clothes in the woods and reemerging as a scary ape then maybe you should consider taking up scrapbooking rather than reading potent literature such as this.
Profile Image for Lou.
879 reviews860 followers
February 24, 2013
A story of dark and strange staggering beauty.

Joy and pain, suffering and redemption.
It's has dark cynical humour with characters of outrageous quality.
There is plenty of work behind the structure of the story.
She has included many issues around her during her time and locality, they are of beauty, child neglect and abuse, racism and police brutality.
Watch out for these things as you read this along as you might not pick up what she trying to convey.
His large hat and clothing seem to give everyone an idea that he is a preacher and his body seems to imbue that he's a preacher and a believer. But he's wants others to see that he's an admirable nihilist. This war he has with himself accepting and refuting continues throughout.
This is no picket fence Walt Disney happy ending story. A very Flannery O'Connor like mood of story dark and strange but very human, they all seem to be on a road the characters to somewhere in this story. She is trying in a way to say, due to her beliefs and new testament understanding, that every believer is really in a sort of suffering prison in this world expectant of a happier life after death. The suffering and obstacles that the characters face all seem to be part of that road to understandings of a bigger picture. The main character Hazel Motes is bent on proving there is no need for a redeemer and Christ, with his mission of starting a church 'the church without Christ' and fails in getting followers. This failure in his journey seems to turn him back to the very whole Redemption topic he has been trying to disprove and turn away from and seems to come back full circle.
Will he take it on? How will his journey end?
Flannery tackles big things in her life here and has it all symbolically imbued in the text. She written a story that even a person with not even a grain of belief in God will still look back and enjoy and many ponder over her mastery and brilliance in the literary field.
Most of her characters are in suffering or a generally unpleasant people. her symbolism and characters Ochange and shift meaning throughout this novel and her other works.

There is a catalog of suffering and struggle in her writing. Flannery describes her female characters with ugliness and describes the body in a fragmented way, disconnecting the hands and feet when describing a body in the story, possibly she is trying to use a certain style inspired by the southern society regard of women and beauty and anther important factor her own decline in health with lupus causing disfigurement and mutation.

To recap a short novel but outstanding in structure, characters and story. Filled with joy and suffering, escape and discovery, brutally human with dark humor. There is some light and I think it comes with the readers experience and interpretation.

'You then,' he said impatiently, pointing at the next one.
'What church you belong to ?'
'Church of Christ,' the boy said in a falsetto to hide the truth.
'Church of Christ!' Haze repeated.'Well, I preach rather Church Without Christ. I'm member and preacher to that church where the blind don't see and the lame don't walk and what's dead stays that way. Ask me about that church and I'll tell you it's the church that the blood of Jesus don't foul with redemption.' "

"I like his eyes . They don't look like they see what he's looking at but they keep on looking."
Sabbath Lily Hawkes.

Review also @ http://more2read.com/review/wise-blood-by-flannery-oconnor/

"I wouldn't have you believe nothing you can't feel in your own hearts."
Onnie Jay Holy
Profile Image for Mark.
180 reviews76 followers
June 14, 2012
Lookeere, thisere story iz bout some right weirdazz folks, I declare. Thing of it is, I don't rightly know whether Ms. O'Connor weren't off her nut when she wrote hit down. I don't see how yon Enoch's gadabouts had anything ter do with anything, in the grand scheme er things. He was a right comical bastard, I declare that. He wuz also few bricks shy of a load, if any you friends been in the contracting or house-building bidness, you might catch my drift. Lookeere, too: that feller that come long with two-names. Why don't he get a comeuppance, heh? Why he don't get hisself a nice bit a lightnin through his fat ole noggin, heh? I was right surprized at at, tell truth. Come ter think, there's right number a things I wasn't quite so sure bout in thisere novel. Some right ornery characters. Thing I like though, they live and breathe, friends, they live and breathe. I mysef live downchere in tha South, and I right declare as I were readin on this bastard this morning, I did have me several interraptions in which deez folks come in an ey acted right bout like the folks in thisere novel, I swar. See, we all floatin round on this big rock. And some of us, we got things to occurpy our minds; and some of us ain't. An it's em folks at ain't got enough ter occupy dey minds, ats a ones you gotter wartch out fer. It's em in what the devil like to play. You catch me? It in them that he liked to pull em strings, make em dance, and sing, and play the geetar if'n e wants. See's how I usually keep an arwful lot in my head anways, iz hard fer me to git inside da head of dem kind a folks. I don't rightly know what's gawn on. But it seem like Ms. O'Connor, yea she may be a sher cite shy of a load herself, be writin about deez folks with such cornviction, the way she do. But it's one of them kinds of readin that you do and ye scratch on ye head some. You can't right penetrate it. Kind like dis ramblin I'm doin heah.
Profile Image for Cody.
506 reviews182 followers
May 13, 2016
*Disclaimer: I was raised Catholic, so I’m likely predisposed to liking this book.

*Disclaimer 2: I watched the shit out of the Poltergeist movies as a kid, so I'm likely predisposed to liking this book as I have a special place in my black heart for Evil Southern Preachers, Wide-Brimmed Hat Division.

Wise Blood is so fantastically odd, so tit-stuffed with awful human beings, that it’s astounding that it isn’t loved by more members of the Satanic Underground that I hang out and play Yahtzee with. Hazel Motes is a character for the ages: the son-of-a-son of a preacher man that wants desperately to escape the large shadow that the cross has cast over his life. Good luck, buddy. This is O’Connor Country, and the Big Guy looms large.

Flagellants, ape suits, people who spit on wolves? Check. Bigots, murderers, and mummified remains? Ditto. Oh, and people who speak like this:

"Do you think, Mr. Motes," she said hoarsely, "that when you're dead, you're blind?"
"I hope so," he said after a minute.
"Why?" she asked, staring at him.
 After a while he said, "If there's no bottom in your eyes, they hold more."

There’s more symbolism in this bastard than in A Comprehensive Compendium of All Known Symbolism (which doesn’t exist), and if, like me, you get your rocks off on barbed wired and the proposition of "A Church Without Christ," read away. Then please come play Yahtzee with me and the Satanists; our membership always flags during Spring.
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