This excerpt is taken from an interview with author Paul Lisicky by Nick Ripatrazone, moderator of the blog The Fine Delight, Catholicism in Literature. Because of our reading of Flannery O’Connor, I thought his take might be of interest.
Could you discuss your appreciation for the writing (and ideas about writing) of Flannery O’Connor?
I’ve always been stirred by the relationship between disruption and growth in her work. Grace doesn’t often happen without confrontation, especially confrontation between strangers. I’m also interested in the relationship between irreverence and reverence in her stories. You can’t have reverence without the other, you know? The Grandmother in “A Good Man is Hard to Find” doesn’t reach out to touch the Misfit’s face until after she mumbles, “Maybe he didn’t raise the dead.” That’s the first point in the piece where she actively doubts, the first time she asks a question. The religion of complacency and denial and reward for social achievement–gone up in a flare. I don’t think that she would have come to that radical connection with the Misfit unless she’d opened herself up to doubt.
I also love what O’Connor does with tone–the almost slapstick, vaguely sitcom-y opening of “A Good Man” morphing into something so grave and pressurized that it’s almost unbearable. Try reading that whole story aloud in a group setting: It’s on fire. I’m always relieved by any piece of art that escapes its original terms, that’s given permission to leap and stretch and go to strange, anarchic places. Of course there’s still humor, dark humor, in the gravest parts of the story, but the story’s become another animal in its final pages. There’s such a lesson in that, not only in terms of content but form, too.
If you are interested to read the entire interview, click on the blog link above.
We had looked forward eagerly to our December meeting because this month’s book, Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor, had been so challenging in its differentness. A new member came, and made a valuable contribution to the discussion as he had seen the movie made from the book back in 1979, directed by John Huston. He was able to describe the determined and forceful way the protagonist Hazel Motes presented himself, characterizing him as clearly “a man with a mission”, one who was not going to let anything distract him from his purpose.
Our discussion ranged over various scenes, characters, and interpretations as we pointed out instances of humour and places where the merging of the several stories that made up the novel did not fit smoothly.
We agreed that O’Connor meant to confront the reader with the dark side that exists in us all. The novel was challenging, verging on the existential, but possibly not as excellent or satisfying as her short stories, which are said to be her most successful works.
I’ve had enough of commenting on the book bit by bit. I started doing it to help myself work through an immediate dislike of the characters, and to force myself to take a closer look at what O’Connor might be intending to accomplish. I was successful enough, but now I’ve become bored with the idea, so I shall drop it. I’ve not heard from anyone, not gotten any comments, so my not going further would appear not to affect any other readers.
I think I’ll wait until after our meeting on the 13th to do any further commenting on the novel, except to say that it’s taken me to some places I didn’t expect to go. I’m looking forward to hearing what other members will have to say about Wise Blood.
Chapters Seven, Eight and Nine
Hazel and Sabbath have each decided, separately, that they will seduce the other. Sabbath is more active in trying to get her way, while Hazel is in no hurry, “considering her innocence”. Neither is successful. Hazel has trouble with his car, although he still proclaims it to be a good machine that will get him anywhere he wants to go. O’Connor’s sense of humour shines through.
Meanwhile, Enoch finds himself giving his room a good cleaning, for no reason that he is aware of. He washes the furniture, buys chintz curtains, and gilds the inside of the cabinet in his washstand. His blood rushes around and around, giving him a hard time, making him feel something is going to happen. When he sees Hazel Motes preaching, standing on his car and explaining that his Church Without Christ is in need of a new jesus, Enoch suddenly realizes what he has to do, and his blood suggests that he keep it a surprise.
Hazel Motes keeps trying to get Preacher Hawks to notice him and try to save his soul, but he only succeeds in having Sabbath harass him further. His preaching is unsuccessful and he has no followers until an unexpected disciple shows up who tries to convince Hazel that the two of them can work together and charge money to have people join their church, but Hazel is outraged that the man is wanting to con people, to exploit the idea of the Church Without Christ and turn it into something else.
Now the story has some momentum gathering, and I am interested to know what will happen next. The author is quite adept with description and dialogue, and the scenes are livelier.
Chapters Three – Five
Hazel’s negotiations to buy a car have an easygoing humour, and we see more of his stubbornness, but I still don’t feel that I’m getting to know him. As he struggles to drive the roads of the town and on into the country, it seems that the landscape is without any distinguishing features, and Hazel doesn’t really know what he wants to do, until he remembers Enoch.
What is all this about Enoch’s blood? We’re told he “had wise blood like his daddy”, his blood gives him knowledge that something is going to happen, and he uses the messages of his blood to direct him. Okay, let’s think about this as a symbol. Blood can symbolize life or life force; blood is essential to the functioning of the body; the blood of Jesus is redemptive. (Jesus and redemption figure importantly in Hazel Motes’ preaching and his conversations.) So how are we to take the “wise blood” of Enoch? And what does it mean that, at the end of Chapter Five, he hears his “secret blood” beating in the center of the city?
In considering the book so far, I have to conclude that the author has a purpose in presenting to the reader such unattractive characters, such grotesques. My reaction has been, “I don’t know anyone like this, nor do I want to. ” But perhaps O’Connor is saying, in effect, “Push past those feelings and look at these people, consider them as possibly another level, another side of yourself. What if? What if you acted like this, said these things? Are you really so different?”
Our November meeting gave us a chance to talk about how glad we are to have come to know more about Blessed John Henry Newman from our current book, and how impressed we have been with his holiness. He gave up so much to convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism–family, friends, reputation, income, occupation, and personal comfort, but he did it with joy, relying completely on God. He is, or will be when officially declared, a modern saint, one for our own time.
Moving from the subject to the book itself, one member declared that the author, Zeno, takes it very easy on members of the Catholic clergy who were distrustful of Newman and caused a great deal of trouble, particularly Cardinal Manning and Father Faber. In her opinion, Zeno tends to whitewash them, declaring that they acted in good faith and therefore were not at fault for the miseries, hardships, and misunderstandings they caused. She feels that a truer picture is given by Meriol Trevor in her classic two-volume biography of Newman. Another member, however, felt that the particular focus of Zeno’s book, Newman’s inner life, was exactly what he was looking for and gave him the insight into Newman’s character that he valued.
We adjourned for tea and the dessert brought by ‘bookgetaway’, which was a great hit, prompting seconds (and maybe some thirds), as well as a request for the recipe. Over our goodies we demonstrated to contributing members how to post to this blog, and discussed what book we would like to read for our January meeting. Our decision was Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI. We are eager to read the Pope’s insights into Scripture and into theological as well as historical studies of Jesus. Since the Pope has been working on a second volume to this work, it seems that this will be a good time for us to become familiar with this initial work.
We look forward to discussing Flannery O’Connor‘s Wise Blood on December 13, our next meeting.