A Crush on Faulkner

Having a crush on William Faulkner is not easy (no jokes about how the author has been deceased since 1962). Being sweet on the works of the man, like any relationship, has its ups and downs. There are times you truly have to work at it, convince yourself it is worth the wait, the patience, all for those moments that leave you in awe, spellbound and spent.

I confess, I have only read two of Faulkner’s works, As I Lay Dying and most recently, Light in August. I’m not sure why I’ve waited so long to indulge in the rest of his books, except possibly intimidation. Faulkner is not easy. From the opening of the cover to reading the final page takes a true commitment. But, I love the commitment. This is not toes-in-the-sand reading with a Sangria in hand. Faulkner requires a comfortable chair, music at low volume in the background (if there is any music at all, although I read Light in August many evenings with Global Village or Strange Currency as the soundtrack), and little distraction. You definitely cannot hold a light conversation, short answers to short questions, and with a  quick turning of the page resume the story, no. Faulkner demands your attention and sometimes its nice to have a writer smack you on the nose to stay focused. It’s become difficult to turn off the world but Faulkner will have it no other way. His sentences are long, paragraphs even longer, and just when you think “okay, I’ll get to the end of this page and call it a night,” Faulkner hits you with this:

“Though the mules plod in a steady and unflagging hypnosis, the vehicle does not seem to progress. It seems to hang suspended in the middle distance forever and forever, so infinitesimal is its progress, like a shabby bead upon the mild red string of road. So much so is this that in the watching of it the eye loses it as sight and sense drowsily merge and blend, like the road itself, with all the peaceful and monotonous changes between darkness and day, like already measured thread being rewound onto a spool. So that at last, as though out of some trivial and unimportant region beyond even distance, the sound of it seems to come slow and terrific and without meaning, as though it were a ghost travelling a half mile ahead of its own shape.” – Light in August

Therein lies the intrigue, the fulfillment, the long kiss of Faulkner. At least, it is for me. So much so that I’ve read As I Lay Dying three times…no four times, it was the focus of an undergraduate paper, and I waited five years since my last visit to the Bundren family to steal a glance at Light in August. I don’t know if it was a sense of remaining faithful to Cash and Vardaman and the voice of Addie from the grave, or the possibility Faulkner surely could not tell me a story again so rich and yet fragmented in its telling through its desperate and consumed characters.

But, how could I be so stupid? This is Faulkner, known for his “originality of style…variety of character and tragic intensity,” I eagerly await the next phase of our summer romance, The Sound and the Fury, described as one of the greatest novels of the twentieth century.  And with my upper lip beaded in light sweat, my hands slightly trembling as I prepare to crack the stiffbound book, I am filled with trepidation knowing this next step could lead to a lifetime obsession.

Faulkner House

*This photo was taken in New Orleans just two weeks before Hurricane Katrina

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* This photo was taken last week, a little deck reading with Eleanor Rigby at my feet.

 

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One thought on “A Crush on Faulkner

  1. The first time I read The Sound and the Fury, I was 19 and thought it was terribly obscure and weighty. I didn’t pick it up again for eleven years. Then, during a long heavy rain, that emptied the San Francisco bookstore I worked in, I started reading it again and almost immediately began to laugh. I laughed, off and on, for the rest of the book. The experience reminded me of Joyce’s sad comment on Ulysses: “Why doesn’t anyone say it’s funny? (which it is, the second time around)” You may find The Sound and the Fury hard going the first time, at least in the Quentin section, but it will repay all your effort.

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