17 July 2009

48. The Sound and The Fury

The Sound and The Fury - William Faulkner

This is supposed to be one of the greatest American novels. Faulkner is supposed to be one of the greatest American authors. So, what was I missing?

I absolutely hated this book for the first 100 pages or so. Each day I would read some and say to myself that I would tolerate it for one more day. Eventually it just got really interesting and I wanted to read more. It was a shame that I had to hate it at first.

Thee are four chapters. The first narrated by Benjy. I almost quit. It was all over the place. Then narrated by Quentin. It got better, but the guy had some pretty serious head problems. It was still full of randomness, but the story started taking shape. Then reading the part narrated by Jason, I really liked the book. From there on out it was very good.

My observations and comments:
Mom was an idiot.

Caddy was wild, but not evil. OK, maybe the incest was pretty bad, but it is forgivable.

Caddy and Quentin's daughter, also Quentin, was wild and a very bad child. Probably because Jason was a lousy father figure and grandmother was too self absorbed to care.

Jason was a bitter bitter young fellow who deserved to get his ass whipped.

Luster, you mean little boy!

I don't think I will be reading any more Faulkner for quite some time. It took a lot of effort just to understand the plot and the relationships of the people in the story.
I will say this one is OK. The beginning stunk. The last half was pretty darned good. Average that out and it is just OK for me.


  1. From Sandy:

    That's funny. Because this is on my top 5 favorite novels of all time, and probably on my list of the greatest novels ever written, but when I re-read it recently, I was struck by how cliche and banal the story is. (Of course it's possible that the archtypes--crazy inbred mother, wild-child daughter, retarded inbred son, suicidal son, business-minded Southern gentleman--never existed in print before Faulkner.)

    If you only want to read to see what the story is, I'll save you the trouble: there is a conflict, there is a resolution. It's usually Man versus Man or Man versus Nature. All the women are either Mary the Virgin or Mary the Whore.

    The genius of the book does not lie in the storyline. It lies in the telling of that story. If you just let the words happen to you, and worry about the plot later, you can have an unbelievable experience. Reading a story told by Benjy doesn't make any sense because he's a serious retard. But when some of the pieces start coming together later, it's a total mind blower. And that's why it's a great American novel.

  2. I agree with you Sandy. The story made no sense and then it was great. The problem I was having was just reading the book and letting it be what it is meant to be.
    I have never been educated on the symbolism used by the great authors. It never rains just to water the lawn. It was associated with depression or sadness. That kind of thing I have never learned. Due to that, I am sure I am missing much of what you guys are able to get from these books.
    Maybe I should take a literature class or something. :-) I think I will re-read many of these books in a decade or so and see if I still have the same impressions of them then.

    As for Benjy, I know he was retarded, but I did not know that when I started reading the book. I picked it up and had no idea what it was about. When the first chapter was written the way it was, and it was impossible to figure out if it was even happening at the current time or partially from memories, it was frustrating. Not bad, but difficult to get a grasp on in any way at all.

    I didn't even realize there were two Quentins for a long time. One was in child in 1928 and another in 1910, but I still didn't get it because I was so confused about who was who and when things happened.

    In the end...it all made more sense and I liked it, but overall the initial frustration detracted from my love of the book...for now anyway.

    BTW...I am glad you are reading these blogs also. Some day I may actually see you again. That would be nice.

  3. Yeah, the Benjy part is rough. He's randomly referring to 18 different events that are significant to him as they come to mind. One of them is the actual present but he talks as though they are all the present. I only know this because I read the book in a college class and a Faulkner scholar walked us through it. Otherwise I'd have no idea what was going on at first.

    It's tough to read just as it is tough to understand the profoundly mentally retarded when they are trying to string together a story for you. I think it's a masterpiece because it genuinely feels like you're getting to know a family in the way we do in "reality." Things just come up as they come up and over time you piece together an understanding of the family. It's hard work but infinitely rewarding to come to know people so deeply. Sandy and I have read everything Faulkner for this reason.

    I'd recommend As I Lay Dying if you want what I think is a better story without Benjy. It's awesome.

  4. As I Lay Dying is already on the list. I still have to get one, but that is easy enough.

    No Benjy would be better. Although, The Sound and the Fury without Benjy would not make as much sense as it eventually did.