Tag: faulkner

2012 Book #30: Absalom, Absalom!

absalom.jpgNow, 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.

2012 Book #24: Light in August

LightInAugust.jpgLight in August is, hands down, the best book I’ve read so far this year. It’s really an amazing novel. Faulkner is one of my favorite authors, and I’ve read several of his best-known novels like The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom! Like the other books I’ve read, Light in August is set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, but it doesn’t deal with the declining families there. I didn’t recognize any family names common to Faulkner novels (in fact, I didn’t know it was set in Yoknapatawpha County until I looked it up on Wikipedia).

A few things are going on in this novel: First, Lena Grove is very pregnant and travels from Alabama to Jefferson looking for the runaway father of her child, Lucas Burch. Second, a man named Christmas, who is unsure of his race, arrives in Jefferson. He meets a man who calls himself Joe Brown, and they live together in a cabin outside the house of Joanna Burden, a well-respected woman from an abolitionist family. Christmas starts a sexual relationship with Burden culminating in a house fire and a charge of murder. Third, we hear the story of Reverend Gail Hightower an outsider in the community who gets involved with the other plot lines. And that’s as much of a summary as I’m offering.

I’m not sure why Light in August wasn’t on my radar earlier. It’s pretty well-known, but it’s also long for a Faulkner novel at somewhere near 500 pages. Which explains why I wasn’t assigned it in college. It’s also more focused on race than I remember his other novels being. In any case, Light in August is so worth your time. I was hooked from the very beginning and in awe of Faulkner’s writing powers. It’s now my favorite of his novels.

Check it out!

2011 Book #23: The Moviegoer

percy-moviegoer.jpgI read The Moviegoer when I was in high school, and I hated it, though I knew I should have liked it. For years, I’ve claimed not to be a fan of Southern lit in general – with exceptions like A Confederacy of Dunces and, more recently, Faulkner. I’m not sure why I don’t like it. Maybe it’s because I hear the words in my head with a heavy southern drawl.

Anyway, months ago, I decided to give The Moviegoer a second try, and I finally got around to it. I remembered almost nothing about it, but I had a feeling I’d like it more now. The protagonist is exactly my age, 29 and about to turn 30, and he has a lot of the general life issues that I have, so I can totally empathize with him. Here’s an example:

Today is my thirtieth birthday and I sit on the ocean wave in the schoolyard and wait for Kate and think of nothing. Now in the thirty-first year of my dark pilgrimage on this earth and knowing less than I ever knew before, having learned only to recognize merde when I see it, having inherited no more from my father than a good nose for merde, for every species of shit that flies – my only talent – smelling merde from every quarter, living in fact in the very century of merde, the great shithouse of scientific humanism where needs are satisfied, everyone becomes an anyone, a warm and creative person, and prospers like a dung beetle, and one hundred percent of people are humanists and ninety-eight percent believe in God, and men are dead, dead, dead; and the malaise has settled like a fall-out and what people really fear is not that the bomb will fall but that the bomb will not fall – on this my thirtieth birthday, I know nothing and there is nothing to do but fall prey to desire.

The problem with The Moviegoer is that it bored me. I wasn’t bored to put it down, but I wasn’t excited to read it, either. Maybe it’s the drawl drifting through my head – I don’t know – but I just couldn’t get into it. Walker Percy just isn’t my kind of writer.

On a more interesting note, I’ve now read as many books this year as I did in all of 2010. I was on quite a bender, but then I started messing with the Thesis Monster again, and Palmer got me hooked on Warcraft, which is much more fun than you might think it would be. I’ll still hit the big 5-0, just you wait. I’m glad I got ahead in January and February.

A couple of notes on Faulkner’s Sanctuary

Before (and shortly after) I started reading Sanctuary, I had a lot to say about it. I’d heard it was very unlike the rest of Faulkner’s work, and I knew about the rape part. I was expecting quite the scene, but it’s not there, and I think that’s why I have so little to say: the first third, or so, is really engaging and scary and frustrating, but then it gets boring. Here’s a short synopsis that probably leaves most of the important plot points out: A wayward teenager runs off with her boyfriend, and he gets drunk and strands her out in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by men who can’t control themselves, she’s raped, someone else is killed, and another guy ends up facing a death sentence. The girl runs off with a creepy old man and stays in a whorehouse for a while, and some other craziness happens, and another guy gets killed. Then more of the like happens. The end. It’s like a pulp novel.

That said, parts of it are beautifully written. Here’s the first paragraph of Chapter 16:

On the day when the sheriff brought Goodwin to town, there was a negro murderer in the jail, who had killed his wife; slashed her throat with a razor so that, her whole head tossing further and further backward from the bloody regurgitation of her bubbling throat, she ran out of the cabin door and for six or seven steps up the quiet moonlit lane. He would lean in the window in the evening and sing. After supper a few negroes gathered along the fence below–natty, shoddy suits and sweat-stained overalls shoulder to shoulder–and in chorus with the murderer, they sang spirituals while white people slowed and stopped in the leafed darkness that was almost summer, to listen to those who were sure to die and him who was already dead singing about heaven and being tired; or perhaps in the interval between songs a rich, sourceless voice coming out of the high darkness were the ragged shadow of the heaven-tree which snooded the street lamp at the corner fretted and mourned: “Fo days mo! Den dey ghy stroy de bes ba’ytone singer in nawth Mississippi!”

I love it! The end is really nice, too.

Besides the first third and the occasional nice language, Sanctuary seems pretty forgettable, unlike Sound and the Fury or As I Lay Dying – even Absalom! Absalom! is more interesting, and I didn’t particularly like that one. That said, I have a similar relationship with Faulkner as I have with Whitman: I outright hated him for a while, but then I reread Sound and the Furyand really liked it.

I think I liked the beginning of Sanctuary because it’s so un-Faulknery in that I can see the first half of the novel happening in Haughton or some other terrible little place around here, and that was fascinating. The rest, though, seemed removed in the same way something like the trial in To Kill a Mockingbird – like it couldn’t happen now. Maybe I got confused about how time works in Sanctuary, or something, but it kind of just turned me off. It could also that it took me almost a month to read it because since the semester started, I’ve usually only been reading just before bed.

Speaking of bed, I’m glad I finally finished it: I had a terrible dream last night. I don’t remember the whole thing, but I had to go to the doctor, and the two ladies in the whorehouse were deciding when I was going to go, and it was somehow terrible. I was half awake, staring at my clock for a good ten or twenty minutes before I finally convinced myself that I don’t need to go to the doctor and that they have nothing to do with my life. I really hate dreams like that, and it took me a long time to get back to sleep.

Okay. I realize that in all this talk, I haven’t really said much about Faulkner or about his novel, and I think it’s because, at this point, I’m almost entirely disinterested. I’m forgetting it already. It could, of course, have something to do with the fact that I read the last hundred and fifty pages or so in a codeine cloud (it was cough syrup!), and now, I’m really really tired.

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