Flannery O'Connor wrote two novels, this being her second and last. Even before we find the title page, she begins her mysterious assault: ''From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent bear it away'' (Matthew 11:12). This spare and often disturbing story is borne by only four characters, all uncles and nephews: the elder Mason Tarwater, his nephew Rayber, the younger Francis Tarwater (son of Rayber's sister, raised by his great-uncle Mason), and Bishop, Rayber's own ''dim-witted'' son. Both Rayber and the younger Tarwater live deeply conflicted lives, torn by their ''prophetic'' blood, living within the fragile tension of complete abandonment to or denial of its call. They can't shake their uncle's eyes, ''insane, fish-coloured, violent with their impossible vision of a world transfigured.'' In her genius, O'Connor hands us no fine or noble character. We find purity of heart in the young Bishop, but even his light seems overcome by the Tarwater ''affliction.'' Still, there is a hard won redemption here. If conflict is any indication of a soul's desire for the good, then it might be as the early Christian father John Cassian wrote: ''By their own desire they brought a certain force to bear on the heavenly kingdom and anticipated the particular signs of their calling.'' 243 pp.
An Eighth Day View:
First published in 1955, "The Violent Bear It Away" is now a landmark in American literature. It is a dark and absorbing example of the Gothic sensibility and bracing satirical voice that are united in Flannery O'Conner's work. In it, the orphaned Francis Marion Tarwater and his cousins, the schoolteacher Rayber, defy the prophecy of their dead uncle--that Tarwater will become a prophet and will baptize Rayber's young son, Bishop. A series of struggles ensues: Tarwater fights an internal battle against his innate faith and the voices calling him to be a prophet while Rayber tries to draw Tarwater into a more "reasonable" modern world. Both wrestle with the legacy of their dead relatives and lay claim to Bishop's soul.
O'Connor observes all this with an astonishing combination of irony and compassion, humor and pathos. The result is a novel whose range and depth reveal a brilliant and innovative writers acutely alert to where the sacred lives and to where it does not.