Somehow I didn’t really know this novel existed until recent years. I knew a book called The Violent Bear It Away existed and I knew Flannery O’Connor had written it, but I figured it was a collection of short stories, and having read all her short stories, I kind of figured I had read this already. She wrote this novel and one other Wise Blood and I honestly feel like those two novels couldn’t be much different from one another. In Wise Blood I feel the absolute distillation of Flannery O’Connor’s wit and irony. Here’s there’s something deeper and darker going on.
The novel is about a family living in and out of town. A young boy who goes by Tarwater is living in the woods with his grand-uncle who has imbued “witnessing” into the boy, trying to raise him up as a prophet. But the boy’s untrusting uncle, a schoolmaster, in town, and sister to his mother feels like the grand-uncle is merely keeping the boy around to have someone to bury him when he’s gone.
So as the story progresses and we move more into the present of the story, the relationship between the agnostic or irreligious schoolmaster and his nephew develops and turns sour and not sour, we see an increasing tension between the various destinies we have as people.
The book tries to make sense of the scope and size of the world that any one of us inhabits. More than the wit and irony of many of her short stories, this feels darker and more meaningful (and also her most Faulkner of writing).