I was walking down the street and thinking about the novel I finished last night, Marilynne Robinson’s Home. Something tugged at my mind; the book reminded of something else I’d read, but I couldn’t think what it was.
Suddenly it hit me, and the shock of recognition was so great that I stopped dead in my tracks (to the great annoyance of the woman who ran into me from behind). Of course. Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood. How had I not seen it before? Wise Blood is one of my very favorite novels.
My mind raced. Yes! It was the same profound issue, being tackled through a different story, but with so many parallels. What did I make of the very different endings? What was the effect of the dark humor in O’Connor’s novel, completely absent in Robinson’s? The much greater realism of Robinson’s? The significance of the surface plot, secondary plot, and other characters? Etc., etc., etc. I practically ran home so I could re-read O’Connor’s Author’s Note.
Then I turned to my “Quotations2006+” document, where I keep my favorite quotations from 2006 and after. (I’m keeping up with my resolution to Take notes without a purpose.) O’Connor’s observation in a letter threw a whole new light on the way I’d understood the ending of Home:
“Part of the difficulty of all this is that you write for an audience who doesn’t know what grace is and don’t recognize it when they see it. All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless, brutal, etc.”
Yes, yes, yes. Now it seems so obvious that I wonder if a reviewer of the much-reviewed Home has written about these parallels. I should look on Google to see if I can find anything.
Surely Robinson has read Wise Blood; O’Connor seems like just her kind of novelist, and the echoes seem so clear – and yet O’Connor herself had said, “I can discover a good many possible sources myself for Wise Blood but I am often embarrassed to find that I read the sources after I had written the book.”
And there’s no accounting for tastes. I would have predicted that O’Connor would have been utterly devoted to my beloved St. Therese of Lisieux, since their outlook seems so similar and also idiosyncratic in the same way, but from what I can tell, O’Connor never looked beyond the kittens, flowers, and ribbons to the heavenly “violence” of Therese (“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away”). Which, strangely, no one ever much talks about in any study of Therese that I’ve been able to find. Okay, now I’m off in my own universe of references and making no sense to anyone else…
Ah, there really is no greater joy than having a thought. Too bad it’s so hard.
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