Let me start by saying that I was a huge fan of Flannery O’Connor in college. I loved her writing style, I loved her odd characters, and I picked several lit classes simply because they included her work. Fast-forward 15 years and the item on the Back to the Classics challenge (hosted by Karen) that calls for re-reading a classic we read in high school/college. Pair that with my resolve to only read classics written by women for this challenge, and here I am with my old copy of 3 by Flannery O’Connor. (Don’t ask me how much I paid for this little paperback! I purchased it before Amazon became a thing and foreign-literature students were at the mercy of university bookstores.)
I tried to read Wise Blood for last year’s Novellas in November, but quickly put it aside when it didn’t grab me. I thought I simply had too much on my mind at the time. Then I picked it up again in January, and it’s been almost a torture to read this ever since. I was actually ready to give up, just 20 pages from the end, but then I pushed through last night. But I can’t say it did much for me, and it’s killing me.
I still enjoy O’Connor’s style, but I cannot connect to her characters. According to the foreword, readers have always had a problem seeing the “folks” in O’Connor’s stories, looking at them instead as “freaks.” And goodness, it is true, all I am seeing this time around are freaks. Early on, I thought that if O’Connor’s characters in Wise Blood walked into Carson McCuller’s Sad Café, even there they would stand out as freaks.
There’s Hazel Motes, a young man returned from war caught in a forceful struggle against his innate faith. He eventually blinds himself, puts rocks in his shoes, and wears barbed wire as part of his repentance of ever having doubted God’s existence. (Or is it punishment for not being able to completely shake his belief? I’m not sure.) There’s Asa Hawks, a “preacher” who pretends to have blinded himself as proof of his faith, and his good-for-nothing daughter, who tries to make a life with Motes against his will. And there’s Enoch Emery, a young man who is convinced that the mummy of a child is holy and steals it as a gift for Motes. I remember that I looked at this story as parody during my first read, but this time around, the characters and their plight just left me cold. Why did I find this fascinating at one point?
Even though O’Connor hated the term “Southern Gothic,” I think it fits well. I can see the grotesque in the broken, delusional characters, but I can’t see much else. Above all else, I can’t see why Flannery O’Connor would call a story with such strange creatures a “hopeful book.” So I will pat my little paperback on the spine and set it back onto my shelf. I’ve had enough of it for now. Maybe in another 15 years, I will give it another try.
Tell me, do you have a favorite Southern Gothic story?