Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Wise Blood by Willa Cather

Recommended to me by an old friend, EdM, I was taken aback by the power and intensity of Cather's novel. Wise Blood is a tale of a few people searching desparately for salvation. None find it, and the search proves to be tragic. This is a fast paced, painful novel, which is beautifully written.

Hazel Motes, certainly one of the more memorable protagonists I've recently run across, is an anti-christian. Specifically, he is engaged throughout his life in a struggle against a Jesus who persues him constantly. "He saw Jesus move from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark where he was not sure of his footing, where he might be walking on the water and not know it and then suddenly know it and drown." When war calles Hazel to Europe, he loses what childhood faith he has, and renounces Christ and salvation. Upon his return, he becomes a street preacher, prosteletyzing the gospel of "A Church without Christ." He draws into his orbit a collection of troubled characters, all of whom move at high speed towards their own destruction among the alleys and shops of the American south in the late nineteen thirties.

This novel is powerful, disturbing, and insightful. Cather has an excellent gift with turn of phrase, and the book moves quickly. It's easy to read and reasonibly short without feeling like a snack. Good, intense stuff, particularly for anyone interested in small America's loss of faith in the decades leading up to the fifties.

Thanks, Ed! Thanks, Willa!

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