This summer, I’ve been getting to know Southern Gothic author Flannery O’Connor through a collection of her short stories. In this “First Impressions” episode, I chat about her life, her writing, and the themes in her stories which grabbed my attention.
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.
Friday Thoughts… a new weekly feature where I talk about stuff. Excited yet?
I don’t know exactly where this series will take us. Per my blogging goals for this year, I want to share more candid thoughts about reading – reading as an experience and as a part of life. Friday, as the week winds down, seems like a good time to reflect.
This week I have been reading The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, as well as listening to The Prince by NiccolòMachiavelli. Both of these are new authors and new books to me, perhaps an over-ambitious start to the year. As I get further and further into The Sound, I seem to be learning more about myself than Faulkner, which was not at all the intent. For example, more than ever do I dislike reading dismal fiction, a la Thomas Hardy and, in a certain sense, Fyodor Dostoyevsky (though the latter wins me over every time). The real world is gloomy enough; why should I read novels that hit me over the head with it again? The current zeitgeist is full of fear, no matter where you live or where you are on the political spectrum. This realization is something that’s followed me into the new year – not in a sense of personal fearfulness (it comes and goes) but rather in a cognizance of how society is operating within it. Again, I find myself more and more seeking escapism, rather than realism, in fiction. Is it silly to prefer fairy tale monsters over real-world ones? I can’t apologize for trying to find some respite from the ongoing, permeating atmosphere of dread.
If Faulkner’s prose is harsh and provokes many a wince, then the soothing tones of Clive Catterall reading The Prince may explain my somewhat warmer reception to it. I’ve long known the term “Machiavellian” to mean something Sinister and Bad; listening to this book has clarified it somewhat, since I see what is really being referred to is a kind of realpolitik – that is, making choices based on sheer logic rather than a moral code. While Machiavelli hasn’t by any means persuaded me to agree with his views, I’m at least hearkening back to fond memories of taking history electives in college, so when I say I’m enjoying The Prince, that and the LibriVox reader are really the main reasons. A head’s up: On Monday, I’ll be finally sharing my review of That Hideous Strength, the last book in C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. In the meantime, I shall soldier on through The Sound and the Fury and, if I survive the fury, will hopefully have some more thoughts on that one in a week’s time or so. If you’ve read it, let me know – does it get better?!