Every so often (e.g. while watching Jeopardy!), I get a reality check and remember there are so many classics I haven’t yet read. As with geography, there are whole regions of classics that are entirely unfamiliar to me, or only half-explored. This year I’ve taken a step in the right direction by reading an author brand-new to me, and that author is William Faulkner.
Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury is one of his most beloved novels, and it seemed like a good choice for a newbie. The story describes the decaying fortunes of the Compson family, once prestigious Southern landowners who now live in dwindling esteem in the 1920s. What they have left to their name is essentially a whole lot of problems: a sickly, haughty mother, an aloof father, and four children with varying degrees of affection for each other and their parents. Intermingled with these character sketches is a twisted and troubling drama of hatred, violence, abuse, and racial prejudice. In Faulkner’s signature style, The Sound and the Fury is a stream of the characters’ thoughts, their perceptions of each other and society, and the bitterness that manifests itself in how they react to adversities. As you might imagine, what has such a rough beginning does not end well.
I wanted to like this novel very much, but there was little in it I could really appreciate. Apart from the writing style, which was indeed effective in its “impressionistic” portrayal of people and events, the book left me disappointed. I have nothing against depressing novels – Russian literature, for example – it’s just that I like to either connect to the characters or get a great message from a book.
For more specifics, you can hear me talk a bit more about the characters in my latest podcast episode, First Impressions – William Faulkner. Other than that… have you read anything by Faulkner? If so, let me know which book(s) you recommend. I still have Light in August on my shelf, which I plan to read at some point.