This post is part of my stated goals mentioned here.
Back about 12 or 13 years ago, I picked up The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner because I decided it was about time I gave him a whirl. Having never read Faulkner before, I had no idea what I was in for, other than the assorted murmurs I picked up from time to time about how difficult of an author he was to read. Those murmurs proved to be completely founded, as I got about 10 pages in and set it down in frustration, not to be picked up again for nearly a decade.
It was a friend at work who convinced me to give Faulkner another try (after we had a very in-depth discussion about Thomas Pynchon), but he advised that I start with something a little less daunting. I held off until I went down to Jazz Fest in New Orleans in 2010, where I bought Collected Stories from the William Faulkner House located in Pirate Alley (right behind the Saint Louis Cathedral). It may sound hackneyed, but I took the book around the corner, sat in an open-air bar, ordered a Scotch and began reading. I’ve never looked back.
The Reivers is the 8th Faulkner novel I’ve read (not to include Collected Stories or other short stories). The Sound and the Fury is well behind me, as is Light in August, As I Lay Dying, and Intruder in the Dust. I may write about those novels later (The Sound and the Fury is probably the second best book I’ve ever read, behind Lolita).
I mention those novels because The Reivers stands apart from them, not in substance, but in style. Published in 1962, it was Faulkner’s last novel, and probably one of his most accessible. There is little to no stream of consciousness flowing through the narrative. Gone, too, are the long, but breath-taking descriptive paragraphs found in his earlier works.
What’s left is a pretty straight-forward book of dialoge between three main characters, and about a dozen ancillary players. There’s little left to the imagination about plot or motivation, and the reader can take it pretty easy reading through the pages.
I don’t stand with other critics who call this one of Faulkner’s “lesser works,” however. Even stripped down, it’s a better piece of work than most contemporary authors produce; for one, simple, yet universally true reason: Faulkner understands the human condition better than anyone I’ve ever read.
I’m no good at writing a synopsis of anything, really. The Wikipedia article will probably do a better job at giving you an idea of what the book is about than anything I write. In the end, it’s a comedy. There’s nothing “soul-crushing” about it. I found myself surprised and chuckling continuously throughout, and was grateful for a “light” read. But, it has all the elements of something much more “heavy” and engaging. The ever-present racial and social undertones are there: The hard, dirt life of Mississippi dirt farmers; The stupidity, meanness, and pettiness of power-mad authority figures; Women who have no choice in life but to sell their bodies to those who will buy them for a night…it’s all there.
The big takeaway, in my view, is the biblical story (I’m thinking Eve, here) of the loss of innocence of an eleven year old boy, how he mourns at that loss, and how he finally learns to accept it. It sounds shlocky, but it turns out to be rather touching in the end.
If you haven’t guessed by now, one of my goals is to read every book by Faulkner. I figure I’m about half way there. The two other Faulkner books I have in the queue for this year are Soldier’s Pay and Pylon.
Next up, however, is Camille Paglia’s Sexual Personae. At nearly 600 pages, I hope to blog about it as I work through it so I don’t have to save up all my thoughts until the end.