In the Deep South, Getting Confused

First, the good news: I hit the 50,000 word mark in my novel today so I have “won” NaNoWrimo . What that means in terms of the novel is that I have a great chunk of novel that now needs a) finishing and b) reworking. It also means that I have discovered that I can write fiction (not necessarily good fiction, but fiction) if I feel like it. Which is cool.

What that means in terms of you, my devoted blog reader, is that I will now get back to work reviewing what I have already read and reading more stuff to review for you. I’m not going to abandon that big chunk ‘o novel, but I’m no longer feeling pressed to hit a particular word target daily at the expense of my other literary fixations.

The bad news is that some of what I need to review I read a month ago, and it’s really hard to get excited about reviewing something that is no longer fresh in my mind, so this is not going to be one of my better reviews. At this point, I just want to get something written about these and be done with it. My apologies.

Here is what I have to say about Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury: 
The Sound and the FuryThe Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Over the years I have often wondered why no teacher ever assigned William Faulkner to me in school. Now, reading The Sound and the Fury, I completely understand. No high school teacher in his or her right mind would suffer through the reaction the average class of high school kids would have to this book.

This is a tale of a an old Southern family declining and coming apart at the seams. It is a masterful and challenging work. Stylistically, there is no doubt this book is a literary accomplishment on Faulkner’s part, but it is definitely not an easy read. The book is comprised of four sections, one each written from the point of view of the three brothers in the Compson family who form the center of the tale, and a fourth written by an omniscient narrator. The edition I read, the Modern Library edition, actually included a fifth section as an afterward, which Faulkner had added in 1946 as a preface and said was the key to the whole thing. Having that section certainly helped make the rest more comprehensible to me. I’m not sure I would have stuck with the book without the structure this section supplied.

Why is this book such a challenging read? The first reason is that the book opens with the section written by Maury or Benjy (the family superstitiously changes his name partway through his life, which is one source of confusion for the reader) who is in some way mentally disabled. Although the nature of the disability is not entirely clear (probably autism), and Benjy understands more of the world than many around him give him credit for, his cognitive limitations color the way that his part of the narrative reads. The narrative centers on a single day, but covers events of a 30 year period, jumping around in a stream of consciousness style, and because Benjy even as an adult is always treated as a child, it is hard to determine what era is described as the narration weaves back and forth unexpectedly. In his mind, multiple days spent in the same locations, and even the multiple losses the family suffered over time, blend and merge, and the reader has to struggle to decipher the course of events. There are also two different characters in different generations with the name Quentin, one male and one female, another potential source of confusion to the reader trying to make sense of Benjy’s narrative.

The sections that follow are much easier to process, a reward to the reader for getting through Benjy’s section. The second section takes place during the last day of brother Quentin’s freshman year at Harvard, leading up to his suicide. This narrative is also not entirely simple to follow, this time because of the narrator’s severe depression. The third section is written by Jason, whose section is overwhelmingly colored by his selfishness and hatred for most of those around him, from others in the family to Dilsey, the strong, caring black housekeeper who is the most consistent source of goodness and sanity in the novel. The final section, with an objective narrator, rounds out the events in the tale, as the family is torn asunder one final time by the conflict that has been brewing.

View all my reviews

So now the October to December scorecard stands at:

Around the World: S. America: 1 2 3; Other: 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10
1001 Books List: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14
Pulitzer: Oct Nov Dec
Nobel: Oct Nov Dec
Great African Reads: 1 2 3

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About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
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4 Responses to In the Deep South, Getting Confused

  1. Congratulations on winning!! 50k is nothing shabby!

    I tried reading this book earlier this year, but decided to come back when I had more time and energy to devote to it. It felt like the narrator would keep talking perpetually whether I had the book open or not.

  2. fissionerror says:

    YAY! Congrats on finishing! Isn’t it at once a brilliant and daunting feeling, knowing you’ve done something big, but there’s still so much more work to do?

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