Tuesday, January 03, 2023

Faulkner Quote and Book

I've been avoiding Faulkner for a few decades, ever since I struggled through the first section of The Sound of the Fury, which is told as a stream-of-consciousness thinking of a very mentally disabled young man. I never did finish the section or read the three others than came after that. 

But the other day I decided it was time to try Faulkner again, as I've had As I Lay Dying on my bookshelf since (checks inside cover) April 1994, when I bought the book in (checks inside cover again) Albuquerque, New Mexico. What a fabulous book. It's also told in a stream-of-consciousness style, this time from the points of view of about a dozen different characters. It's set in Mississippi in the 1920s, and the main characters are poor, rural people, so their streams can be a little hard to grasp. To get started it helps to have a look at the character list and, gradually, the plot synopsis.

Still, the characters are, with only a couple exceptions, uneducated, so their diction and thinking can be lean, subtle and sometimes confusing. You have to pay close attention, and when you think you are missing something (like one woman's shy visit to a pharmacy seeking medication for an abortion, in a time and place where that issue wasn't talked about except in very general terms that beat way around the bush), it helps to glance quickly at the plot summary. But Faulkner also puts noble thoughts in their presentations, like the quote above, words that sometimes seem above them and are really Faulkner putting his own ideas and philosophies into their stream.

But soon the book starts to make sense as you get the characters straight in your mind, and their mission, which revolves around the trials and tribulations of transporting their dead mother 40 miles away by mule-and-wagon for her burial with her people. The story was gripping and, to my surprise, I couldn't put the book down once I was about a third of the way into it.

I highly recommend this book, if only to see what all the acclaim about Faulkner is about (though he didn't always write in a stream-of-consciousness style). You just have to read carefully and look outside the book when you need a little help. 

The best books I've read this year! 

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