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Three by Flannery O'Connor: The Violent Bear It Away, Everything That…

von Flannery O'Connor

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Flannery O'Connor's provocative and critically-acclaimed works have established her reputation as one of America's most original authors, and three of them are available in this collection: "Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away" and "Everything That Rises Must Converge". Afterword by author Dorothy Allison.… (mehr)
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This is quite the body of work. I’m not quite sure where to begin, so, this book. I have the 6th printing of the 1983 Signet Classics edition. It’s one of the worst examples of the printer’s craft I have ever seen. The cover is made of horrible brittle card. The paper’s vile. The text column on the obverse shuttles back and forth across the page. That on the reverse is printed right in to the inner margin. This thing was a reading copy when printed. It’s an insult to the contents. They only reason you might want it is for the excellent introduction by Sally Fitzgerald.

I sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that Americans are closer to us culturally than they really are because we share a language. I know the Southern states can bear some strange fruit, but these stories really bring it home to you just how alien a culture we’re dealing with here. Not only that, but Old Flanners was herself deeply strange. What the introduction does is lay out those oddities. Without it I would have missed so much, or even entirely misinterpreted the fiction.

Take The Violent Bear it Away. The protagonist is young Tarwater. He lives with his great uncle. If you look at the beats and features of his early life you’ll see they match the story of Moses. That would make the uncle God. Like Moses, Tarwater rejects the call to prophecy and the conflicts of the novel flow from there.

But the uncle shouts in the wilderness, is obsessed with baptism and dies early on (on page one, folks. I’m got giving anything away) so he is also John the Baptist. Which makes Tarwater Christ. Fine. Got it. I know where I am with this set-up, or I thought I did.

As it happens I know a man very like the uncle. By coincidence his name’s John. He doesn’t live in the wilderness or anything; he lives in a council flat, but he’s crazy in the way the uncle is crazy. I don’t mean mentally ill, but crazed, if you know what I mean. He has a number of beliefs about the physical nature of reality of which he would have difficulty finding proofs anywhere outside his own head. He also cannot stop talking about them. Take baptism. I think of this as a naming ceremony. But, (and this is where the introduction was so important) O’Connor believed it to be a working magical rite, as critically important as pulling the rip-cord after you jump. In other words, she believed that the uncle is right and within the world of the novel he IS right.

I’ve seen her characters described as grotesques. I’m also seen a couple of comments by people from the South who consider them realistic. I used to work for a charity for the homeless. If you or I went to view a property we could probably conform to social norms for the short time necessary to trick the landlord into believing we were suitable tenants. Many times I worked with people who were so far over the line that the line was a dot to them. They couldn’t trick the landlord because they couldn’t conceive of the social norms they needed to ape. Some people I’ve met don’t need to fake it. These people are boring. But I wouldn’t consider the non-conformists to be grotesque, just very real. You have to learn the way they’re built before you can successfully interact with them. With a writer as strange and complex as this you can’t learn her ways on a first reading.

This might make it sound as if she’s preachy, but this really is not the case. It’s just that (shock horror) she actually has something to say. And it’s not heavy going. The pages flow over. Probably some sort of genius. ( )
1 abstimmen Lukerik | May 16, 2019 |
I read two of the novels in this compilation; The Violent Bear it Away and Wise Blood. Confusing, sinister and riveting, O'Connor's writing is surreal, with complex story lines where you have to re-read certain passages to determine whether the action is a dream or is actual. Characters are genuine and strange; her writing is superb. ( )
1 abstimmen homeschoolmimzi | Mar 31, 2018 |
Wise Blood is the first novel in this book. It is a grotesque and is described by the author as a comedy about serious issues. I didn't find it comedic. Hypocrisy is a major topic and is explored while considering religious belief. Catholicism was important to the author and from this perspective several gruesome events are used to show that though Catholicism is not as easy as the other religious options, it is the correct choice as other denominations are corrupt and full of hypocrisies. In some ways a more secondary character, Enoch Emery, is more interesting than the main character (Hazel Motes). Enoch was powerfully lonely and this causes him to make decisions that do not have a positive result. This novel was both repulsive and thought provoking, though I found some of the presentation of religion to be oversimplified.

(SPOILERS for the next part- sorry, couldn't avoid it)
The Violent Bear It Away is the second novel in this book. This was truly violent and objectionable. The main characters at different times plan to kill and finally actually kill a child with an intellectual disability. The characters all assume that something is wrong with the child (Bishop) existing as he is and he becomes their focus in dealing with the issues that have been inculcated by the senior Tarwater. The younger Tarwater was not a likeable character- he both drowns and baptizes Bishop and doesn't seem to understand the reality of the situation, which is that he killed a child! All of the characters have horrible things happen to them, and though one wants to empathize with their situation, in the end they are all so violent themselves that only a general sense of pity can be roused. This was a better written novel than Wise Blood but I found it appalling.

The final part of the book is a collection of short stories, Everything that Rises Must Converge. A lot of issues rise. The collection demonstrates that complex issues such as racism and sexism are not cleanly resolved by laws, social pressures, and more fully educating a younger generation. As blatantly offensive as some of the views of the older generation are, the younger generation behave in ways that are also quite offensive, for other reasons. Many of the characters live off of older mothers, calling them "Sweetheart," which is not an endearment in this situation, and disrespecting them while at the same time relying on them for financial support.

This was not an enjoyable book but it was a worthy book to read and the idea that hypocrisy is offensive remains relevant. I do question the value of the grotesque genre when taken to this extreme. It seems to interfere with clarity and makes it impossible to like any of the characters. ( )
  karmiel | Jul 25, 2015 |
Feeling that I had not been open to her writing before, I recently decided to read "A Good Man is Hard to Find" but only got through this one before tossing this book aside. If you love metaphors and descriptive works that bring you to the feel of a place, this book might be for you.
It was not for me however, in that it seems only to display the lowest aspects of all human life in the story, with no positive argument whatsoever for the survival of the human race. In reading her biography, she appears to dismiss all critics who did not like her work as unsophisticated readers or (worse!) "northern readers". Having lived in the south for fifteen years and having a passing acquaintance with her hometown of Milledgeville, I am familiar with the hostility of some of her neighbors who share her views. She did win literary awards as well as fans, and there is no question that she had great talent for graphic "gothic" writing. I feel that I can always read the newspapers if I want to revel in misery and brutality though, and when I want to read something , I usually look forward to a positive experience, a scary experience, or at least an enlightening one in literature. ( )
  PhyllisHarrison | Mar 26, 2013 |
I'm not sure why I couldn't finish this. I've only ever read short stories by O'Connor before. Maybe because these were longer, so they defied my own sense of her writing as brief in length and tight in prose? I kept restarting the book in part because it's such an ugly, yellowed paperback edition, and I wanted the satisfaction of finishing it and tossing it in the recycling. I tossed it before finishing. ( )
  allison.sivak | Nov 15, 2011 |
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There are two versions of Three (or 3); this page is for the one which contains the works Wise Blood, Everything That Rises Must Converge, and The Violent Bear it Away. If your book appears on this page but contains A Good Man Is Hard to Find instead of Everything That Rises Must Converge, please separate it from this work and combine it with the other version of Three.
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Flannery O'Connor's provocative and critically-acclaimed works have established her reputation as one of America's most original authors, and three of them are available in this collection: "Wise Blood, The Violent Bear It Away" and "Everything That Rises Must Converge". Afterword by author Dorothy Allison.

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