B.O.S.S. Dearly Distressed Dispatch #000000000023
The old life in him was exhausted. He awaited the coming of new. It was then that he felt the beginning of a chill, a chill so peculiar, so light, that it was like a warm ripple across a deeper sea of cold. His breath came short. The fierce bird which through the years of his childhood and the days of his illness had been poised over his head, waiting mysteriously, appeared all at once to be in motion. Asbury blanched and the last film of illusion was torn as if by a whirlwind from his eyes. He saw that for the rest of his days, frail, racked, but enduring, he would live in the face of a purifying terror. A feeble cry, a last impossible protest escaped him. But the Holy Ghost, emblazoned in ice instead of fire, continued, implacable, to descend.
- Flannery O’Connor - The Enduring Chill (1958)
For what is more fiery than the clash of secular and spiritual, of old and new, of transgressions and forgiveness? If only the great chariots, filled with visions and revelations, could tear into and out of the fabric of our modern lives, cutting at once deep and swift, leaving us wounded but purified, thanks to the violent grace of:
Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor.
And reading it is going to be cool for the following reasons:
O’Connor is known for her novels and short stories about the mid-century American South, works frequently addressing the clash of changing social conventions (intergenerational, racial, religious). Though typically fitting into omniscient, third person narrators that are often associated with American fiction writing in the ‘50s and early ‘60s, O’Connor’s work differs by being the antithesis of the slice-of-life, observational fiction of the immediate post-war period. In her stories, the action is real: blazing undercurrents of religion mix with actual physical clashes, and often death. It is not uncommon for the reader to be unapologetically pushed into discomfort.
O’Connor’s writing is filled with racial elements that are without a doubt jarring when read in 2019. One will find tones of humanity beneath the abrasive surface, though this is often counterbalanced by her desire to distance herself from what she regarded as the over-simplified views of liberal Northerners. While she was known for wanting to stay out of topical and political literature, the complexities she layers will certainly elicit immediate emotion in their sharpness of craft.
Wise Blood was published in 1952 and is her first novel. With O’Connor being a devout Catholic herself, one may find the book’s engagement with religion to be of a different tone than much of the familiar themes found after the leaving of the church (I’m lookin’ at you, Irish lit). For O’Connor, the fire and brimstone is real, it is of consequence, and it is omnipresent.
Let’s do something a bit different this round. Wise Blood is relatively short, so let’s do a single meet-up in June. But let’s also read her short story A View of the Woods, which is readily available in her Everything That Rises Must Converge collection, and get together to discuss it in May. That way we’ve got plenty to talk about while increasing our hanging out back to original levels.
Nick - B.O.S.S. Department of Hospitable Misanthropy