Thursday, September 02, 2010

Book Review: Light In August

Light in August by William Faulkner

It is beginning to amaze me that we push exposure to the writing of William Faulkner through The Sound and the Fury or As I Lay Dying. My first real exposure (outside of “A Rose for Emily”, which is a topic for another discussion) came through As I Lay Dying. I found it dry and dreary, and not very illuminating--except for seeing the word slough in print repeatedly. Then came The Sound and the Fury, which I found much more vibrant and dramatic, but it didn’t get to me. Years later, on a second read, I liked it even more.

It wasn’t until graduate school that I learned to really like Faulkner, while reading If I Forget Thee Jerusalem: The Wild Palms. The sentences in that book went on and on, with texture and color. They were like winding vines, dark green and gripping. But it wasn’t just the sentences, it was also Faulkner’s tone, how he described the flood waters, how he let us see into Henry’s heart. I think I was the only one in that class to like the book.

Beginning with pregnant Lena on the road in search of her baby’s father, Light in August reminded me of the influence Faulkner has over Cormac McCarthy. I could see how Outer Dark came out of some of the elements of Light in August. Lena is dull and determined and I was disappointed that the narrative dropped her in favor of Joe Christmas and Rev. Hightower, or the other characters that appear, complete with generational back stories, and take over for a time. The character of Joe Christmas and his assumed mixed heritage made for a good mystery, despite despicable and violent he is. Rev. Hightower's story is considerably more sad and though there's no purposeful mystery, much about what makes him so maniacal and delusional remains unknown.

Though the novel wanders down tangents at times that felt like distractions, including a new character who takes over the novel's ending, it was addictive. The tone and setting invited immersion. I took every opportunity to read the book, coming close to picking it up while waiting at red lights.

Noting the influence of Faulkner on other writers I enjoy reading, tells me that I need to keep reading his work. Light in August is a Faulkner novel that cannot be missed.

1 comment:

  1. I did not find Light in August that fascinating, it wanders so much that it is hard to follow the story. I do think there could have been a read somewhere in there, but I finally decided that in the end it was not worth my time, very hard to follow. I did finish it, but was more than ready for it to be over.

    This is the first Faulkner book I have read, hoping this one was not his best.