Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Guest Post by Heath Lowrance
Heath and I come from different backgrounds and have very different views on writing and all that. But he has made a name for himself and I am always open to good topics and discussions.
We are doing a blog post on each others blogs at the same time. So once you read this post go on over to his blog to check out mine. His blog is: psychonoir.blogspot.com
Since so many of Aaron’s readers are Christians with a taste for edgy crime fiction, and since my own work has been described as “anti-faithful” (which it’s not, not exactly), we thought it might be fun to respectfully address the issue of religion in fiction head-on.
Flannery O’Connor once wrote: “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 and brutal.”
She left out “blackly funny”. Wiseblood is one of the saddest, bleakest, funniest books you’re ever likely to read and had a huge impact on me as a writer, as huge as anything by Jim Thompson or Charles Willeford or any of the other great psycho-noir types.
What makes this strange is that O’Connor’s preoccupation was with the idea of religious salvation—she was a practicing Roman Catholic living in the predominantly fundamentalist American South, and almost all of her work was concerned with matters of faith.
I didn’t know any of that when I first read Wiseblood. I’m not a religious guy. To me, Wiseblood was an existential black comedy, tragic and grotesque, full of bizarre characters and beautifully unlikely scenarios. Southern Gothic Noir.
But hey, I’m not here to talk about Wiseblood, really…
My novel, The Bastard Hand, is also about faith. Kind of. My protagonist, Charlie, is as confused about religion and faith as any character in an O’Connor story—this confusion makes him the perfect pawn when he winds up in Memphis and in the snares of the Reverend Childe, a preacher bent on booze and women, a man of God with a very dark agenda. When Charlie and the Reverend descend upon the small North Mississippi town of Cuba Landing, they bring with them a very small, very personal Apocalypse.
I’ll leave it to the reader to decide what the message is in The Bastard Hand, or even if there IS a message worth anything. But I can tell you this much, at least: the “action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it” doesn’t come into the equation.
Religion, man, it’s just a… preoccupation of Southern writers. It always has been. Even the ones who have become non-believers still feel the weight of that cross. It would take an entire book to outline the possible reasons for that, but themes of faith and salvation (or the lack thereof) bleed through the lines of almost every great book written by a Southerner in America.
For me, it’s a scab I can’t stop picking at. You’ve probably guessed by now that I’m a non-believer (why be coy about it?) but questions of faith still plague me from time to time, enough so that I love talking about it and exploring it.
Don’t misunderstand me: The Bastard Hand is NOT Wiseblood. But is IS “hard, hopeless and brutal”.
It’s also blackly, blackly funny.
And without the balm of grace.