This is the first Faulkner book that I have read; which is strange because I’ve been to several of the places where he lived. So when visiting Oxford Mississippi over the 4th of July weekend with my wife, I thought that it was high time.
I had always read the back of Faulkner, telling myself I should read this American Great, but found the back to be simply depressing; and I already knew that the South was depressing, so I felt like I hardly needed to read a book that confirmed all that.
Now that I live in the South, and each morning I read in my screened-in porch while crickets and cicadas buzz away and sing their song of racial repression, I connected with Faulkner. In a different setting, say Seattle or the shores of the Mediterranean, I probably would not have finished Faulkner. But here in the South…it’s different somehow. The heat and humidity helps understand the reality of Southern Gothic.
The plot of the book, which you can quickly glean from the back cover, is namely that a man sets out to create for himself the plantation lifestyle and create Southern dynasty. It destroys him and his family through fate, myth, and human fallibility. It’s an epic novel of the South played out in the medium of one family over the course of generations.
It’s all here: bigamy, incest, racial oppression, the Civil War, plantations, the caste system, the heat, the groves of magnolias bathed in Spanish moss, wisteria, the Pride, revenge…
Faulkner’s caliber as a writer is nearly unmatched. It is beautiful writing: the work of a true master. To say he experiments with the “steam of consciousness” style doesn’t capture it. Faulkner’s writing is primarily mythological, and like all epic poetry and mythology, it should be recited out loud. I definitely plan on listening to my next Faulkner (Probably The Sound and the Fury), rather than reading it. His turns of phrase, his descriptions and his ability to view one action through multiple lenses and tell it in multiple ways is surprisingly unique.
Fun fact: Guinness’s Book of World Records thinks that the longest sentence in literature is to be found in Absalom, Absalom! at 1,288 words.
The last bit of interest here is Faulkner’s complicated relationship with the South. It’s clearly a brand of “love/hate”. I find it interesting that Faulkner is the author par excellence of the South, and yet this novel ends with the scion of a great plantation family, a character that could be said to represent the best of the South repeating to himself that he does not hate the South.
In the big picture, this novel is about the American Dream and it is about understanding the South as mythology and reality.
Highly recommended; best read on a porch with a cigar. Cicadas are necessary.