I’ll come clean and say that I haven’t been reading any books for my local men’s book club over the past few months, but I could not stop myself when they chose a Flannery O’Connor novel, THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY. There’s so much that has been said about this novel already, but I can’t help, but leave some notes for it here.
A revered classic of Southern Gothic, O’Connor’s novel of bracing satire, prophetic rantings, and whisperings of demons is a rough journey of a novel, not for the faint of heart, or the uninitiated to Flannery’s prose.
THE VIOLENT BEAR IT AWAY follows young Francis Marion Tarwater, who witnesses his great uncle die before his eyes. Raised to replace the prophesying uncle, Tarwater rejects this fate thrust upon him for maybe the worldly ways of his cousin, Ryber. A schoolteacher and a man thick in secularism, Rayber attempts to convert the defiant Tarwater away from God-fearing ways to those of humanism and “reason.” Yet, Tarwater is haunted by his great uncle’s wish to baptize Rayber’s son, Bishop, a boy with mental disabilities. Both will have to confront the heritage that seeks to claim them from beyond the veil.
I knew what I was getting myself into when I read O’Connor, but this book was a rare treat purely by what it seeks to play with. Messing with both backwoods religiosity and cold, calculating modernism, she was clearly attempting to address the problems and conflict of the Christ-haunted South and the ever-present disruption of modernism. She deftly weaves in and out of Tarwater & Rayber’s perspectives and sheds light on the darkness of the human soul, in beautifully riveting description and exposition. Flashing back to memories and back to the present narrative is effortless for O’Connor and a writer of her craft.
I don’t often enjoy such classics, but O’Connor represents to me the very best of Catholic writing. She comes from a place of grace, while encountering the terribly flawed human. She writes sin and the weakness of a person, so well, that it’s utterly startling and down right sickening at times. We can’t escape ugliness in the world, and O’Connor wants to remind the reader of that, but, as Tarwater and Rayber find out, grace pursues us relentlessly. Whether it is by attending Church or attending to those who need it most(Bishop), it is this grace that seeks to break through the absolute worst that sin can distort.
I’m very grateful to have read this story and I will be returning to it in the future.