Summary: A 14 year old boy tries to escape his destiny.
One of my reading goals this year is to read all of Flannery O’Connor fiction, which is completely possible because there are only two novels and two short story collections. The Violent Bear It Away is the second novel. On the whole I liked it more than Wise Blood, but I am not completely sure why. My most clear impression of the book is that I have missed a lot of it because I am sure I have not understood some of the references and subtler meanings. It will be going on the ‘to read again’ pile.
Tarwater, a 14 year old boy, who has been raised by his great uncle after his mother died in a car accident, is suddenly alone in the world. After his great uncle dies, he leaves his cabin in the woods and goes to town with his secular Uncle Rayber and his son Bishop.
One of the Goodreads reviews I read commented that none of the characters are likable, but I disagree with that assessment. It is hard to like the characters, but I did not dislike any of them. Instead, it was easy to see the hurt in all of the characters. I could not think of the surly 14 year old, or Rayber, who had been abandoned by his wife with a disabled (probably Downs Syndrome) boy, without having sympathy for their hurt. They make bad decisions and harm one another, but the harm is harm borne by trauma and from generational sin.
I also am both intrigued by and disturbed by the religious themes throughout the book. Tarwater’s mission from his now dead great Uncle is to baptize Bishop. Rayber, who has rejected Christianity as part of rejecting the life around him, most especially his Uncle Mason, wants to prevent the baptism. There is a child preacher/evangelist, who is taken seriously as an evangelist, but also part of a family that is presented as fleecing the flock. The concept of God calling Mason (the great Uncle) and Tarwater as prophets is taken seriously by the book, but also their own behavior is anything but illustrative of the fruits of the spirit. There is also a voice that Tarwater hears that O’Connor confirmed was intended to be the voice of Satan pulling him away from God’s path.
I also cannot help but read this last novel and wonder what O’Connor would have written had she lived longer. I also feel like I need to go back and re-read at least part of A Subversive Gospel, which is book of literary criticism that primarily focuses on The Violent Bear It Away. A Subversive Gospel both prepared to read The Violent Bear it Away and had more in it than I really could understand because I had not yet read the main book being discussed. So I will at least go back and read the main chapter on Violent Bear it Away.
The Violent Bear It Away by Flannery O’Connor Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook