Now, here’s a hard one to write about. It’s also my favorite book so far this year, though I’m sure this review will in no way reflect that, as I tend to make my favorite books sound like I (should) hate them. Anyway.
Along with being my favorite, Absalom, Absalom! is also the most difficult book I’ve read in a long time. I’d rank it up there with Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses or Gabriel Garcia Marquez‘s Autumn of the Patriarch – or Faulkner‘s own The Sound and the Fury, for that matter. The story is jumbled in a similar way, at least.
It’s set in Yoknapatawpha County, as most of Faulkner’s novels are. Thomas Sutpen, a man with no clear past but who is determined to make a name for himself, to make himself East Egg when he’s really a West Egger – and he doesn’t even have the money yet. (Get the reference? More on that in a minute.) He’s also determined to have a son to inherit the vast wealth he plans to accrue. Sutpen’s actions destroy his family and those of others with which he becomes involved. Which is not a spoiler because I’m pretty sure you learn all of that in the first five pages, or so, if you’re paying attention.
And this novel requires a lot of attention.
If you’re up for a battle, this is your book. It doesn’t have that much to do with Faulkner’s other novels, though most of it is narrated by Quentin Compson, who you might recognize from The Sound and the Fury. It does, though, deal with one of his favorite subjects, decaying southern families. Like the Compsons.
One of my high school teachers had a master’s degree in English. Her thesis was on the American Dream in Absalom, Absalom! and The Great Gatsby (get the earlier reference now?). Somehow, I had never read Absalom, Absalom!, but I wondered for years what a Faulkner novel could have to do with Gatsby. A few pages in, and it’s obvious: Sutpen is trying to fulfill Ye Olde American Dream, and the result is disastrous. Read both novels (if you haven’t already), and think about it.
To summarize: If you want a challenge, get a copy of Absalom, Absalom!, and settle down for a long, intense read. It’s totally worth it.