Book #27: The Sound And The Fury
Reading The Sound and The Fury helped me realize something important: This 101 book project is a lot like marathon training.
Over the course of the 16 weeks I trained, I made somewhere in the neighborhood of 60 to 70 runs. Every now and then, maybe once every 10 runs, I would step outside, walk down my driveway, and seriously consider skipping that training run.
I just didn’t want to put in the effort that day. I felt unmotivated and thought, What’s it going to hurt to skip one 5 mile run anyway? But I willed myself to put one foot in front of the other. And after about 45 minutes of running, I completed my mileage goal for the day.
Even if I was simply going through the motions–getting the “mileage in”–I still felt a sense of accomplishment, satisfied that I had fought through that desire to quit.
The Sound and The Fury was a lot like those training runs. No doubt, I went through the motions of reading this book. This novel is recognized as William Faulkner’s premier work. It’s ranked as the sixth greatest novel on the Modern Library list. It’s a classic in every sense of the word.
And now, after much weeping and gnashing of teeth, I can check book #27 off the list.
I did read The Sound and The Fury. I really did. But when I say I “read” this book, it’s like saying someone has “visited” Los Angeles after having a two-hour layover at LAX.
Their feet did indeed stand inside the boundaries of Los Angeles. Maybe they saw a celebrity or two at the airport. They took a picture of a picture of the Hollywood sign and posted it on Facebook (“Hangin’ out in L.A!”). But did they really visit Los Angeles? Of course they didn’t.
So I could sit here and B.S. you guys all day long. I could pull up a guide on the internet and research the themes, the plot, the characters, Faulkner’s intent with his stream-of consciousness writing style. Sure, I could play it that way.
But, instead, I’m going to be honest with you: I have no idea what I just read.
And, yes, I did read the book. I read The Sound and The Fury in the sense that my eyes looked at individual words connected together to form sentences. These sentences connected together to make pages.
My eyes read all the words on all the pages (348) that comprise The Sound And The Fury. Ocassionally, my eyes would transmit messages to my brain about these words. That didn’t happen very often, but it did happen a time or two.
After about 20 pages, I realized this was going to be a tough read. Many of you warned me. But I guess, having mostly enjoyed my Infinite Jest reading experience, I thought I could handle Faulkner without too much trouble.
Was I ever wrong.
Books like this are not suited for this type of project. Even though I’m not on a time schedule and haven’t set a deadline for myself, I still want to move at a fairly decent speed.
I neither have the time nor the patience to grasp this book. I had a hard enough time using the supplemental guides and such with Infinite Jest.
You know, I’m just a guy who likes to read, not a college professor who has spent 20 years dissecting every word of every novel in a certain genre. I just read.
So, sure, I could sit down with The Sound and the Fury, take a couple of months, read a small amount per day, consult guidebooks and online resources. I could definitely do all of that. And seven or eight weeks from now I could give you guys a well-researched, quality review of one of the greatest books in the history of fiction.
But, honestly, I don’t want to do that. I’m ready to move on. I just want to get my “mileage in” on this one, take my running shoes off, plop down in an ice bath, and check this one off the list. So that’s what I did.
Of the first 27 novels I’ve read, the only other book that I would qualify as a list-checker is Mrs. Dalloway. It was an accomplishment just to turn the final page of that book. So, for me, if I have two “list-checker” books out of every 25, then I can handle that.
Well, it’s pretty much just one long rant.
But here are a few specifics. The story revolves around the Compson family in fictional Yoknapatawpha County Mississippi.
The Compsons are an old-school, aristocratic Southern family. They have African-American servants whom they call “darkies.” They have a “name” to protect in the small town they live in.
The story is broken into four sections—all of which take place on different, individual days. The first section focuses on Benji Compson—the mentally-handicapped son who the family believes is a burden and a black eye to their status in the community.
In this section, Benji is the narrator, and Faulkner writes in short, choppy, sometimes incoherent sentences to represent Benji’s mental instability.
In section two, the narrator is Quentin, the most intelligent of the Compson bunch. He gets accepted to Harvard, but he’s emotionally disturbed and contemplating suicide.
He’s highly protective of his sister, Candace (“Caddy”), who is another black eye to the family because she got pregnant at 14.
This section was nearly unreadable to me. The excerpt from last week’s post came from this section. Perhaps if I had taken a week to read through these 50-60 pages, I would’ve understood them better. Perhaps. If you’re just dying to read more never-ending sentences, here’s another one:
The train swung around the curve, the engine puffing with short, heavy blasts, and they passed smoothly from sight that way, with that quality about them of shabby and timeless patience, of static serenity: that blending of childlike and ready incompetence and paradoxical reliability that tends and protects them it loves out of all reason and robs them steadily and evades responsibility and obligations by means too barefaced to be called subterfuge even and is taken in theft or evasion with only that frank and spontaneous admiration for the victor which a gentleman feels for anyone who beats him in a fair contest, and withal a fond and unflagging tolerance for white folks’ vagaries like that of a grandparent for unpredictable and troublesome children, which I had forgotten.
Jason narrates the third section. Despite his arrogance, Jason is his mother’s favorite son. She makes that clear. He treats the servants like crap and generally makes life hell for the rest of the family. He’s one of the more unlikeable characters of any of the books I’ve read.
The final section, thankfully, doesn’t have a narrator. Consequently, it’s actually readable. If only Faulkner could’ve written the rest of the book like this final section. To give you an idea of how “normal” this final section is, here’s a brief excerpt in which Jason Compson is out on the hunt for his “scandalous” niece:
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. From time to time he passed churches, unpainted frame buildings with sheet iron steeples, surrounded by tethered teams and shabby motorcars, and it seemed to him that each of them was a picket-post where the rear guards of Circumstance peeped fleetingly back at him. “And damn You, too,” he said. “See if You can stop me,” thinking of himself, his file of soldiers with the manacled sheriff in the rear, dragging Omnipotence down from his throne, if necessary; of the embattled legions of both hell and heaven through which he tore his way and put his hands at last on his fleeing niece.
See how normal that is? It’s almost pleasant, and it goes to show just how excellent a writer Faulkner was. Now, obviously this is my opinion, but I think Faulkner’s work would have been much more approachable had he not been writing in the experimental era of the 1920s, with contemporaries like Woolf and Joyce. At least Hemingway and Fitzgerald didn’t mess around with the stream-of-consciousness nonsense.
Anyway, those four sections are a short, inadequate summary of The Sound and The Fury.
One point of interest: The book closes with an appendix, which clarifies a lot of notes about the characters and really helped the novel make more sense. Faulkner realized his story was opaque, and included this information to help the reader not feel like they were totally in the weeds.
Even so, I really didn’t like this book.
The Opening Line: “Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting.”
The Meaning: The title comes from Shakespeare’s Macbeth–act 5 during Macbeth’s soliloquy:
“Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Highlights: Thankfully, the book wasn’t 500 pages, or I don’t know if I could’ve finished it. But, in all seriousness, I’ll take the word of the critics who love this book. I’m sure it’s good. I just don’t have the patience to figure it out.
Lowlights: Where to begin? After struggling with Faulkner and Woolf, I think I can now say I’m not a fan of stream of consciousness, at least the more dense, difficult style that these two authors use.
Memorable Line: “It’s a curious thing how, no matter what’s wrong with you, a man’ll tell you to have your teeth examined and a woman’ll tell you to get married.”
Final Thoughts: You all can tell what I think about this book. This is one of my longest reviews, so I don’t have much else to say. Let’s just say that I’m not looking forward to Light in August, Faulkner’s other book on the list.