Absalom, Absalom!

May 4th, 2011 by Editor B

Absalom, Absalom!Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It took me a good long while, but I finally finished a book by William Faulkner. I’d read a few pages from The Sound and the Fury a few decades ago, gave up, and avoided him like pellagra ever since. It took me almost half a year to finish Absalom, Absalom! but mainly that’s because I was reading with a support group that only met once a month.

Consider this description of language buried in the middle of Chapter VII:

that meager and fragile thread… by which the little surface corners and edges of men’s secret and solitary lives may be joined for an instant now and then before sinking back into the darkness where the spirit cried for the first time and was not heard and will cry for the last time and not be heard then either

Grim, eh? Now imagine a cast of characters pacing back and forth inside of this thing called language like animals in their cages. That’s how this narrative struck me.

It’s a dark and difficult book to be sure. In fact I read this for a group called “The Difficult Book Club.” One has to figure out how to read it. I recommend a slow but steady pace. This prose can’t be rushed; but if left too long, one loses the thread. When in doubt, try reading a passage aloud. It’s like poetry. It should not be a chore, though it can easily become one. Find the pleasure. Insist upon it.

Ultimately the book gives up its secrets in a most rewarding fashion. Upon finishing I turned back to Chapter I and it read like a completely different book. The words had not changed, only I had. What had previously seemed incomprehensible now made perfect sense. Moreover, I felt some of the mysteries of the Deep South had been illuminated, and that I now have a better and deeper understanding of this place where I live but was neither born nor bred.

Highly recommended, but not for everyone.

8 Responses to “Absalom, Absalom!”

  1. liz Says:

    Encouraging post for those of us who want to read Faulkner but gave up after trying. Thanks for writing about your experience. I might just give myself the challenge on trying him out again.

    Also, glad that it was a meaningful experience for you.

  2. Cousin Pat from Georgia Says:

    It took me a good long while, but I finally finished a book by William Faulkner.

    Cheers to you for that! I’ve been trying for about 15 years, and still haven’t made this benchmark yet.

  3. David Says:

    Other Faulkner reading I’d recommend ordered by length and accessibility:
    “A Rose for Emily” an exquisite short story
    “The Bear” a novella, and a masterpiece. The fourth section is a heavy exercise in stream-of-consciousness. Don’t feel bad about skipping it; it was added by mistake.
    “As I Lay Dying” one of his shorter novels, also widely read and highly regarded.

  4. Editor B Says:

    Thanks, David. Your comments remind me — we also read a Faulkner short, “Wash,” which expands on the final day of the character Wash Jones. It’s written in a much more accessible style.

  5. Brenda Helverson Says:

    I was forced to read Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying in college and I just didn’t get the appeal. Perhaps I should try it (or another Faulkner) again t see if he has grown on me.

  6. Editor B Says:

    He does seem like an author easily spoiled for people by a forced march.

  7. David Says:

    Faulkner is one of my favorite writers, but he’s definitely not easy to read. As Bart said, his writing is poetic, and often poetry is not easy to grasp. But his writing so often captures his characters’ struggle with their internal desires and their external circumstances; Bart’s quote illustrates that. Faulkner himself referred to it as “the human heart, working against itself.” Like poetry, his writing is often so beautiful. His stories are dramatic, and his intentions are extremely bold.

    Here’s a link to “A Rose for Emily;” to me it’s 6 pages of literary perfection. (I will warn you, though, that even this short story doesn’t unfold in chronological order.) http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/litweb05/workshops/fiction/faulkner1.asp

  8. Jeremy Says:

    He was hands down my favorite novelist in high school. Haven’t read anything by him in 15 yrs, at least! At the time, I think I loved the obscurity and the lyrical power of his writing. I’m moving north this summer, so I think I’ll be taking a break from all things Confederate for a while – but your post leaves me wondering what on earth I would think of Absalom, Absalom these days

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