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Monday, August 30, 2010

On: William Faulkner

I can’t say it was defeat, but I can’t chalk up a “victory” either. I often get distracted by the rabbit trails of footnotes and parenthetical notes, so when I read of the contributions and influence of William Faulkner on American literature, I just had to bump at least a couple of his works up on my reading list. Now I can scratch him off.

I first chose the smaller work, “As I Lay Dying.” This book has its own rhythm, a certain poetic feel at times and is very descriptive with sights and sounds. Many readers mention the humor of the book and others comment on the profound philosophy also contained therein. I had great difficulty connecting up much of the action. The little humor I did find was indeed very creative, such as the description of towing the aged and overweight doctor uphill by rope; or, the reason for putting Addie Bundren “head to foot” in her casket (to make room for her dress--that's what happens when men bury a woman). One profound philosophical nugget (“it takes two people to make you, and one people to die”) is reminiscent of the kind that comes after too many shots of whiskey (don’t ask me how I know that).

This novel correctly reminds us of the struggle to live in the face of death. It shows the impact of death on family of variant ages. It even reminds us that we no longer live as close family. When death comes, geography absorbs the impact.

“As I Lay Dying” is no easy read. Each chapter is from the perspective of a different character, sometimes carrying the action forward, sometimes going back to something that already happened. Faulkner is adept at weaving in and out of narrative, dialogue, recollection, contemplation and reaction.

Pressing on to his “magnum opus,” I then picked up “Absalom, Absalom.” I’ve read synopsis, critical remarks, and a few notes, but was simply unable to get past the first chapter. I am fairly accustomed to archaic language (and a couple of ancient ones, like Greek and Hebrew), but reading "Absalom, Absalom," is like getting into those one-sided conversations with an overtalkative person who says absolutely nothing. It took 20 pages to say, “the man moved here and built a house.” Sorry, but I just could not do it. A bit too much like Hawthorne in some ways, but Hawthorne moved us through the story.

Perhaps in the 1930’s people were less distracted and were thinking at a different level for this kind of material.

Perhaps Faulkner’s story telling (definitely a style of his own) is an acquired taste, like eating asparagus (bleh).

Regardless, I’ve never been so relieved to cross an author off my list. I appreciate when I have to work for something, but that kind of work is not for me.

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