On Light in August

Posted by Jack on 2019-04-17 at 19:00
Tagged: books
TitleLight in August
AuthorWilliam Faulkner

I read this because it's one of my dad's old books. He calls it his favorite, and is a Faulkner fan in general, but I gotta admit that I wouldn't have finished this if it wasn't for that connection.

There are passages of this book that are great. Long sequences of evocative imagery, especially with Christmas and the "street" of crime he follows from 17 to 33 and his various wanderings leading to Jefferson or his flight after the house burns down where he drifts for days unable to keep track of time.

Faulkner has a definite style of his own, the story reads like it's being told to you, with a lot of vernacular and contextual repetition of words and in that way it feels personal. Considering it was set in Faulkner's modern day and place, that makes sense - it's literally him telling you this story as if you were just sitting and listening.

Generally I love authors with a point of view. That said, Faulkner's style basically goes against everything that I value in prose. His sentences are long and winding and hard to parse. The story jumps back and forth in time, sometimes in order to fill in backstory, but sometimes it just feels like he was jumping ahead to touch on one character before the others and then later he fills in the gap. This does work some of the time (for example, knowing that Brown flees the cabin before you read the scene where he's in the cabin colors all of the lies he tells to Lena) but other times it's just confusing (like when we find out Christmas is shot to death before we read the passage about his "escape", even though we already knew he died). There are also more one-off characters than I care to remember (like how the final chapter is told as a first person recounting of a new character introduced for no real reason). Again, all of this mirrors the sort of long, winding oral history vibe that Faulkner was presenting, but just because that's the case doesn't make it any easier to read.

Anyway, it was these bipolar stretches of greatness connected with almost tediously windy prose that turned this book into more of a chore than I usually tolerate. By the time I was on the last 100 pages I was just reading to finish the book more than any enjoyment or interest in the story and, even if I can intellectually see where Faulkner was going and recognize that there are probably themes and symbols I'm failing to examine, in my mind that gut check is pretty damning.