Making It Close

Following the publication of Wise Blood in 1952, whispered speculation commenced among the novelist’s relatives, who wondered how an innocent Catholic girl from a genteel Southern background could have acquired the worldly experience to write the early scene in which Hazel Motes enters a stall in the men’s room at the local train station, reads the graffiti inscribed on the walls, and takes a taxi directly to the home of Mrs. Leonora Watts, the town’s fancy lady.  Readers of Bearings and Distances who are aware that the author took a Ph.D. from the University of Dallas, has taught literature for 30 years, and is currently president of the theologically and otherwise conservative Wyoming Catholic College in the small town of Lander may be similarly bemused by Glenn Arbery’s familiarity with the seamiest aspects of lower-middle-class life in rural Georgia.  (An acquaintance with that of the upper-middle-class, but in some ways equally squalid though more socially and intellectually sophisticated, milieu of higher academe in the Upper Midwest and in New England would, of course, have been unavoidable.)  I hasten to add that Bearings and Distances is no more an “immoral novel” than Wise Blood, or, for that matter, L’Assommoir, or Sanctuary (considered by the late Catholic academic John Senior a morally...

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