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Monday, September 28, 2015

Book Review: Wise Blood (1952) by Flannery O'Connor

Flannery O/Connor is an original hipster.

Book Review:
Wise Blood (1952)
by Flannery O'Connor

  I watched the movie version by John Huston and spelled his last name Houston throughout the review.  Embarrassing mistake!  I blame auto correct.   I was enthusiastic about the movie and I'm equally enthusiastic about the book.  The movie is a straight forward visualization of the book itself, so they are basically the same work of art. I mean they're not, of course, but the similarity between book and film is closer than what you usually see.
Harry Dean Stanton as the 'blind" preacher in the John Huston film of the Flannery O'Connor novel, Wise Blood.

  Part of the reason Wise Blood made such a good movie is that its actual length and writing style are close to that of a 90 minute movie.  O'Connor is such... a proto-hipster,  In fact, considering Wise Blood was published in 1952, you could put her up there with other proto-hipster icons like Jack Kerouac or J.D. Salinger.  Saliner is a particularly apt comparison because of the similarities between Salinger's Catching of the Rye and Wise Blood.  Both deal frankly with  the travails of an alienated young man.

  The hipster as a concept dates back prior to the 1950s.  You could trace it back to jazz age culture or blues culture in the early part of the nineteenth century.  But the role of American writers in the 1950s play in our contemporary ideas about what is cool and uncool  is impossible to ignore and interesting to contemplate.

  The claustrophobic small town environment is identifiable as southern but also universal is a way that anyone who lives in a Portland, a Louisville, Chicago, St. Louis, San Francisco, Los Angeles or even New York can relate to.  You could imagine Wise Blood being written today and finding an enthusiastic audience.   I think it probably lies just outside being on many literature class reading lists for twentieth century literature but that is a shame- it is very likely one of my top 100 novels and my favorite of this year.

 I think generally that the American South is underrepresented in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die series because many of the editors are English and it is an English production.   Faulkner is underrepresented and many secondary authors are underrepresented entirely.  You could say the same about the midwest- only ONE Willa Cather novel?  One Theordore Dreiser novel.  Or about the American West- Jack London is underrepresented, Frank Norris doesn't even make the cut.


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