By Flannery O'Connor
Classic Flashback #4
In my humble and arguably cynical opinion, The two best novels about the American religious experience are Elmer Gantry by Sinclair Lewis and Flannery O'Connor's Wise Blood. Lewis' book is a satiric look at the merging of fundamental Christianity and Capitalism. It's meaning is pretty straight forward. Wise Blood is quite a bit more devious and is a deeper, more individualistic look at the complex working of its character's spiritual conflicts. Its main protagonist Hazel Motes looks like a preacher but he prides himself on his nihilistic attitude. He moves to the big city and preaches "The Church of Christ Without Christ" but he is confused and searching as much as anyone else and doesn't always know what he is searching for. As Lily Sabbath says of Hazel; “I like his eyes. They don’t look like they see what he’s looking at but they keep on looking” Hazel is a southern Søren Kierkegaard who never heard of a leap of faith. O'Connor's sly novel reads like a sumafabitch yet is about a lot more than any first reading tells you. Every character , minor or major serves a purpose. It is meant to be read again and again (This is my fourth reading) and every time will give you another outlook on the eccentric and oddly charismatic charm of Hazel and the other resident of this Southern Gothic classic. If there is a case for "Southern Gothic Existentialism", then Wise Blood makes it. I recommend Wise Blood right up with Elmer Gantry, The Great Gatsby and An American Tragedy as candidates for the great American novel of the 20th century.