If I had to describe Faulkner’s writing in one word, it would be ABSTRACT.
If I had to describe the experience of reading it in two words, they would be ARMY CRAWL.
Literary critics called Faulkner’s style “experimental.” This is kind and decent of them. I, for one, tend to view Faulkner more like an incoherent grandfather figure. It’s illogical to love him, but expected to admire him.
In The Sound and the Fury, there are two major characters named Jason (and two named Quentin); long series of intermingling flashbacks; four separate and unreliable narrators (including one with no notion of time or chronology); and stream-of-consciousness ramblings with little distinction between the past and the present. In short, it’s very difficult to know what is going on, who is involved, when it’s taking place, and how anybody feels about it.
And yet. Despite Faulkner’s lifelong determination to confuse his readers with his incomprehensible books and his interrupted mustache, The Sound and the Fury is wildly intriguing. It’s about a family so dysfunctional that when Caddy, the only daughter, gets pregnant out of wedlock, her own brother falsely attempts to claim paternity. Yes, you read that correctly: he lies to make people think he had committed incest with his sister. I think the gesture came from a place of love, or shame, or something properly literary, but sheesh. I wish brothers would stick to traditional gifts. When in doubt, give Post-it notes. They come in all sorts of fun shapes, such as square and rectangle.
The first quarter of The Sound and the Fury is narrated by Benjy (a.k.a. Maury—have I mentioned how confusing this book is?), a mentally disabled brother and son in the Compson family who is unable to comprehend conceptual ideas such as time and morality. After revealing a set of non-sequential (and barely navigable) memories, he passes the narrative torch on to Quentin, a Harvard student and brother to Benjy and Caddy. As his incestuous inclinations might suggest, Quentin has a delicate grip on sanity, as well as a tendency to overreact to the “harsher” facts of reality (such as his sister’s promiscuity). He combats his obsession over obsolete Southern ideals with suicide.
From there we move on to sections narrated by Jason Compson IV, the family patriarch and asshole, and then Faulkner himself (in third person). Caddy, whom many of the novel’s events and social commentary revolve around, never takes the mic. Should she? Probably. In a story meant to depict the deterioration and eventual collapse of Southern ideals and values, as represented by one aristocratic household with no hope for perpetuation or salvation, Caddy is the seismic wave that triggers the Compson family’s avalanche of a downfall. But instead of being dragged down by her roots, she frees herself from them—and is ultimately better for it.
The Sound and the Fury has long been considered one of the greatest books of all time. To that I say: HOW CAN WE BE SURE? Unequipped as most of us are to penetrate his genius, are we still going to bestow upon him, collectively, the benefit of a world of doubt?
For my part, I’m going to reserve judgment—at least until research shows that Faulkner’s novels were not actually the result of his cat jumping on top of his typewriter.
It used to be I thought of death as a man something like Grandfather a friend of his a kind of private and particular friend like we used to think of Grandfather’s desk not to touch it not even to talk loud in the room where it was…
“Whut you gwine do ef hit rain?”
“Git wet, I reckon,” Frony said. “I aint never stopped no rain yit.”
The air brightened, the running shadow patches were now the obverse, and it seemed to him that the fact that the day was clearing was another cunning stroke on the part of the foe, the fresh battle toward which he was carrying ancient wounds.
He could see the opposed forces of his destiny and his will drawing swiftly together now, toward a junction that would be irrevocable.