|Vintage Books, August 1972|
Honestly, I'm kind of surprised myself. I didn't really intend on digging into this book again, twenty-some years after the first time reading it. But it's been sitting on my shelf with my other meager collection of Faulkner novels, and I see it and think "gawd-dang that was a good effin' book" and next thing I knew I was wading into the swamp of Sutpen's Hundred all over again. And I mean pulled in like quicksand, succumbing to the winding labyrinthian (sometimes tortuous) prose of what I think is Faulkner's very best novel. I'm not anywhere near a Faulknerian expert. I've read about 5 of his books, and two of those (including this one) twice. But, man...could that dude write!
So...yeah, everyone knows this is a difficult book to read because of the style and structure of the novel, the long passages, the stream of conscience and the confusing timelines. I heard all that stuff too before I first read it. But I was an English major at FSU...I can take it, bring it on! And yes, those first dozen or so pages alone are daunting enough, wherein Quentin Compson agrees to meet the old spinster Rosa Coldfield and first hears the story of Thomas Sutpen who came from nowhere with his two pistols, a horse and a "herd of wild negroes" to pull his 100 mile homestead up from the very earth itself, erect his mansion from the clay of the land and by the sweat of his brow and to later marry Rosa's sister Ellen who gives birth to Henry and Judith thereby keeping in form and destiny Sutpen's plan to seed the south with his offspring and carve his name into the hearth of the noble gentry of Yoknapatawpha County Mississippi. But pushing aside the difficulties of the book and forging onward through the dense prose will reward the soul with a storm of tormented passions that leaves one breathless at its conclusion. A story of past sins that haunt the present, of a family cursed, of murder and violence and war, all told and retold through the lenses of three generations and fifty years of loss and ruin.
Okay, you get the idea, the 10-cent shadow of such in what I was going for there. And...ornate prose aside, I can't recommend this book highly enough. On this second go-round I'd forgotten how heartbreaking so much of the novel is. How painful and tragic and cruel the human condition can be. This is what the best literature does for us. It hurts and disturbs and, ultimately, provides a glimmer of hope. Don't let the difficult rep stop you from reading this book. Dig into it and surrender yourself to the words and don't worry that a particular passage of the moment doesn't make sense. It's not meant to make sense on a linear destination like we're used to. Take it as it comes and stick with it. It will come together by the end you will not be sorry afterward.