Thursday, April 2, 2015

Light In August by William Faulkner

Light In August by William Faulkner
Published originally in 1932
Source: one of us bought this in college, it's clearly a college edition but neither of us recalls reading it even remotely possible that whoever was supposed to have read this managed to b.s. their way through it?

Goodreads Summary:
Light in August, a novel about hopeful perseverance in the face of mortality, features some of Faulkner’s most memorable characters: guileless, dauntless Lena Grove, in search of the father of her unborn child; Reverend Gail Hightower, who is plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen; and Joe Christmas, a desperate, enigmatic drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry.

My Thoughts:
I long ago decided to stop struggling with writing summaries for my reviews; it took much too long for something I was almost certain that most of you wouldn't read. But then I read a classic and there is no publisher's summary to copy and paste and the other summaries available are too long and I'm left casting about for something simple.

 So I grabbed this from Goodreads and it tells almost nothing. It doesn't mention the story's setting, a small town in 1920's Mississippi, or Byron Bunch, who plays key roles in each of the other characters' lives. There is so much more to the story than that one sentence (although, given the length of Faulkner's sentences, it is kind of perfect in that regard).
"The have thundered past now and crashed silently on into the dusk; night has fully come. Yet he still sits at the study window, the room still dark behind him. The street lamp at the corner flickers and glares, so that the bitten shadows of the unwinded maples seem to toss faintly upon the August darkness. From a distance, quite faint though quite clear, he can hear the sonorous waves of massed abject and proud, swelling and falling in the quiet summer darkness like a harmonic tide."
This is the book I was meant to read with my friend, Lori, when I accidentally picked up As I Lay Dying. I could have decided I wasn't meant to read it. I could have chalked this up as another failure in our long line of attempted readalongs. But I couldn't let that happen again and, oh my, am I glad I couldn't.

Light In August is not an easy read; Faulkner is never an easy read. It is long (my edition was nearly 500 pages long), there are long passages where I wasn't entirely sure I understood what I was reading (thanks to Sparknotes, I found out I did),  and Faulkner makes up his own words (seriously, he is constantly putting two words together that were never meant to be together) and plays with his narrative. But that is part of what makes this book great and it's what made this book first stand out in the literary world.

Light In August just like life - very often life is slow moving, often building to inevitable conclusions; sometimes things get crazy, even shockingly so; there are times of profound beauty and times of deep sadness. In the end violence begets violence, people will follow blindly, some people will come out with lessons learned but most will not.

In Light In August Faulkner addresses religion, sexuality, class inequality, obsession, all of which revolve around the central theme of race and how it defines and divides us. Joe Christmas is a man unsure of his race (the summary indicates he is of mixed ancestry; that is never clear in the book), leaving him a man unable to find his place in a society that, particularly in the American South, defined a man by the color of his skin.
"He was sick after that. he did not know until then that there were white women who would take a man with a black skin. He stayed sick for two years. Sometimes he would remember how he had once tricked or teased white men into calling him a negro in order to fight them, to beat them, or be beaten; now he fought the negro who called him white."
Christmas' battle with his racial heritage colors his entire life, he wields it like a weapon but it is a weapon that can easily be turned on him. In the wrong hands, at the wrong time, in the wrong place, it will be his undoing, setting in motion the events that drive this incredible novel.

The only question I have now is this: which challenging novel will Lori talk me into reading next?

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