Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Book Review: Intruder in the Dust

Intruder in the Dust - William Faulkner

I have said before (and often) that I think an author's biography should stay separate from one's reading of a text. Yet, while reading Intruder in the Dust, I began to wonder how much William Faulkner was drinking at the time of its writing.

The novel is a story of racial injustice in the South that continues some eighty years after the Civil War. After being rescued as a boy by a black man, Lucas, from an icy stream, Chick, now 16, harbors a resentment over his indebtedness to Lucas. When Lucas is jailed and in danger of being lynched over the murder of a white man, Chick's debt is called. He must prove his innocence by digging up the body of the murdered man.

Unlike much of Faulkner's work, the story is told with a consistent timeline. It is still told in a loose, modernist style, reminding us how much Faulkner has in common with Virginia Woolf or Joyce's Ulysses. It can be difficult at times to discern the narrative from the stream of consciousness. Indeed, in the late sections of the novel, this style takes over for extended passages. What makes it worse, though, it the preachy-ness of these passages.

Faulkner carries a moral indignation about the continued maltreatment of blacks in the mid-century South, and the overcompensation of white guilt, and voices it loudly in passages like this:
to defend not Lucas nor even the union of the United States by the United States from the outlanders North East and West who with the highest of motives and intentions (let us say) are essaying to divide it at a time when no people dare risk division by using federal laws and federal police to abolish Lucas's shameful condition, there may not be in any random one thousand Southerners one who really grieves or even is really concerned over that condition nevertheless neither is there always one who would himself lynch Lucas no mater what the occasion yet not one of that nine hundred ninety-nine plus that other first one making the thousand whole again to repulse with force (and one would still be that lyncher) the outlander who came down here with force to intervene or punish him....
Passages like this led me to question Faulkner's drinking at the time he wrote this novel. What was one of the most coherent and simply enjoyable of Faulkner's novels is challenged by this preaching. And yet it will rank high on my list of the best of Faulkner's novels.

No comments:

Post a Comment