Light In August by William Faulkner

First, I have to admit that I have misplaced my Top Ten book, but I think this book is at least on Stephen King’s Top Ten (though don’t quote me). If you saw all the piles of books around my place between myself and Amelia’s library books and my “I own these” TBR pile, you’d understand the reason it’s misplaced.

Second, I will state that the quotations below from the book do not involve me forgetting apostrophes. Words like can’t, don’t and ain’t, are not used with apostrophes in the book. ” He never included apostrophes in the words “dont,” “wont,” “aint,” “cant,” or “oclock,” and very seldom used an apostrophe to indicate a dropped letter at the beginning or end of a spoken dialect word, such as “bout” or “runnin.” He never used a period after the titles “Mr,” “Mrs,” or “Dr”.”

Light in August by William Faulkner is a really excellent book. I enjoyed it. It’s basically (to me at least) a story about who people are. One of the main characters creates self fulfilling prophecies about himself, projecting what others think of him onto them, and does atrocious things because of this. But, compared to other characters, he is very self aware. Faulkner paints those that are not self-aware as almost being buffoons.

This book is copyrighted 1932, and it has a certain tone that I think of as coming from the 1920s through the 1940s. I just looked at the copyright date and even had I not known Faulkner was 20th century, earlier in it, I would have been able to guess either the thirties or the forties as the time frame the book was written in. Steinbeck’s works (even his written in the 1950s East of Eden) and Flannery O’Connor are two of the ones I think of while writing this. However, I really like how Faulkner uses this style and makes it his own.

Faulkner injects a certain wry humor into his subjects, at moments where you wouldn’t expect it. For instance, one of the main characters, who got pregnant out of wedlock is sneaking out of her house to go find her deserted lover.

“Two weeks later she climbed again through the window. It was a little difficult, this time. “If it had been this hard to do before, I reckon I would not be doing it now,’ she thought.”

The character I mentioned above with the self fulfilling prophecy issues, named Joe Christmas has the following moment, which I think describe him amazingly well.

“Looking down at the harsh, crude, clumsy shapelessness of them, he said “Hah” through his teeth. It seemed to him that he could see himself being hunted by white men at last into the black abyss which had been waiting, trying, for thirty years to drown him and into which now and at last he had actually entered, bearing now upon his ankles the definite and ineradicable gauge of its upward moving.”

I loved how rich Faulkner creates his characters. He will spend pages upon pages on backstory of a character, of events of their prior lives. Unlike Les Miserables, it’s actually very compelling backstory, there are no long descriptions of battles that have nothing to do with the story except to introduce a character in the last line of quite a tangle of pages. Sometimes you have no idea why Faulkner has shared a back story of a character in, but suddenly he ties it together. He also doesn’t waste characters. Even the characters that are there for a purpose, like the sheriff and deputy and aren’t deep characters he paints in rich, vivid detail in a few words and leaves them be. This scene comes between the sheriff and a black man he is interrogating (not Joe Christmas).

“The other two white men were behind him, where he could not see them. He did not look back at them, not so much as a glance. He was watching the sheriff’s face as a man watches a mirror. Perhaps he saw it, as in a mirror, before it came. Perhaps he did not, since if change, flicker, there was in the sheriff’s face it was no m ore than a flicker. But the negro did not look back; there came only into his face when the strap fell across his back a wince, sudden, sharp, fleet, jerking up the corners of his mouth and exposing his momentary teeth like smiling. Then his face smoothed again, inscrutable.
“I reckon you aint tried hard enough to remember,” the sheriff said.
“I cant remember because I cant know,” the negro said. “I dont even live nowhere near here. You ought to know where I stay at, white folks.”
“Mr Buford says you live right down the road yonder,” the sheriff said.
“Lots of folks live down that road. Mr Buford ought to know where I stay at.”
“He’s lying,” the deputy said. His name was Buford. He was the one who wielded the strap, buckle end outward. He held it poised. He was watching the sheriff’s face. He looked like a spaniel waiting to be told to spring into the water.
“Maybe so; maybe not,” the sheriff said. He mused upon the negro. He was still, huge, inert, sagging the cot springs. “I think he just dont realize yet that I aint playing. Let alone them folks out there that aint go no jail to put him into if anything he wouldn’t like should come up. That wouldn’t bother to put him into a jail if they had one.” Perhaps there was a sign, a signal, in his eyes again; perhaps not. Perhaps the negro saw it; perhaps not. The strap fell again, the buckle raking across the negro’s back. “you remember yet?” the sheriff said.”

There are a couple more scenes with that deputy and that sheriff, but they only reinforce what you’ve learned here about them. Both are very minor short interactions with characters.

Faulkner layers his story, you don’t know where he’s going exactly. The thing I loved about this book is that once he gets you to where you going, you feel like you’ve known all along where it’s heading. Though there were one or two return characters that surprised me and how they ended up to be tied into the story thirty years after their original appearance.

Read it.

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