About mini reviews:
Maybe you’re not an audio book person, or maybe you are. I provide mini reviews of audio books and give a recommendation on the format. Was this book improved by a voice actor? Would a physical copy have been better? Perhaps they complement each other? Read on. . .
Wise Blood was Flannery O’Connor’s first novella. Generally, she was better known as a bird lover, cartoonist, and short story writer. Here, we get the story of Hazel Motes, a young man whose mother and preacher father are deceased. Hazel was sent to war where he was injured, leaving shrapnel in his chest. For his service, he receives a government check, but what does he do with his life now that he doesn’t need a job? Deciding that Christ and penitence only keep people miserable, and that the Truth is what will set hearts free, he purchases a rickety car (seriously, the door is tied on) and begins to preach a “new church” from the car’s roof: the Church Without Christ.
While Hazel is the main character, a handful of memorable secondary characters get space in this novella, and voice narrator Bronson Pinchot brings them all to life beautifully. I wondered what made Pinchot so very good at his audio work and found an article in which he discusses his beliefs about people deserving the same enthralling experience that readers with the book have. He explains:
I decided early on that I should not “read” the book but “be” the book, the way I imagine Homer, in performance, “was” the Odyssey. We know he wasn’t “reading” it.from a 2014 Vulture article
Thus, each character sounds different, like performative expression of their personality. I can’t imagine how flat Wise Blood might “sound” if I had read the paperback version. In fact, the beginning of the book from the 10th anniversary edition has a note from O’Connor, pointing out that she had intended Wise Blood to be funny. I’m not sure it would be on the page, but Pichot gives the sentences careful inflection; he can read the word “no” in so many different ways.
O’Connor’s novels often feel directionless to me, meaning I have no idea where in a plot arc I am, but each scene is interesting and rich. Wise Blood does conclude Hazel’s story, and he experiences conflict throughout, but some readers may be left feeling dissatisfied. I was more like a person on a roller coaster unaware of where the end was yet smiling on the loop-the-loops anyway.
I recommend the audio copy over the physical book for the way Pinchot performs a gumpy boy, a nymphomaniac, and a slippery street preacher. Just go with the ride and enjoy each scene, no matter how weird, preachy, violent, or silly it is.