This book got under my skin. The narrative is broken up into 4 chapters, the points of view of the Compson kids. It begins with the “afflicted” Benjy’s POV, and only gets more distorted from there. Time hopping individual character’s perceptions through a family’s degeneration, the third chapter of the eldest Jason brings clarity and cold analysis to the situation, a vague recognition of some story outline – incest, wedlock breakdown, dealing with mental illness, tempers, alcoholism. Harshness of the times revealed in treatment of women, the sister and her daughter who are forced apart, it is horrific. Quentin makes a scary likeable genius moved only too hard by love and pushed by some pump in his mind.
It’s really harsh, full of raw racism and sexism and dialects that ring true but foreign, specific to a time and place and culture (southern early 20th century). The corruption of the writing mocks the dissolution of the family, mother hatred, run-on sentences that make me weepy for their beauty-truth – sometimes sound and sometimes fury (audio descriptions and anger/rage driving characters) running themes through the four loose chapters of accumulated years.
When I finished it, I was glad to see an appendix which worked like an index, explaining the tale that unraveled in a more forward manner, letting loose the final nugget, making the arduous journey worthwhile, whereupon the niece ran off with more than 7k of her actual money which the uncle had been keeping from her.
Mike’s review and response
What the fuck is going on? Who are these people? I’m freaking out here. Too hot bath, window closed, panic attack. Had to get out. Ironically, I was overly calm and down when I got in the bath. Only got in because my roommate isn’t here, so I had an opportunity. The panic started when I saw how much of her hair was on my soap. Considered mock-tweeting @Cosmo #actualphoto, in the same way anyone mocks things: 3/4 seriously. If this weren’t considered a classic, I’d put this shit away after that horrible start. Instead I’ll drink some water and hopefully continue.
Though I’m still unsure of my Southern surroundings, I’m at least no longer freaking out.
Did I settle down or did the story? I could go back and re-read the first 10 pages, but it’s not really in my nature.
It freaked out some more so I Wikipediaed. What do I say now? It jumps time and doesn’t make much sense. Maybe I’ll have some insight when I’m done with the book, but for now, all I can do is go along for the ride. Trying to not read too much Wiki. In hindsight, I read a fully synopsis and it helped. My edition said Faulkner wanted the appendix to appear at the beginning (though it was at the end here).
Hopefully by plowing through the first chapter in a day I’ll have a decent impression of what happened.
As I start chapter 2, I notice the effect chapter 1 had on my. I cling to images I would normally ignore: the mirror, the shadows.
Valerie wrote a note on one of my stories to read this book because the Quentin chapter had something similar. In my story, there’s some ugly gratuitous violence, so I expected it here and was terrified, but it never came. Was the threat of violence real or did I create it? It’s disjointed enough to imply violence, but do I only think that as justification for my thoughts?
Do I have any idea what’s going/went on after Quentin’s chapter? Nope, not really. Though there is a certain pleasure in the prose, lucidity isn’t really a part of it. Honestly, if it wasn’t highly regarded, I would have quit after 2 pages. Which is extremely rare for me.
I didn’t get the sense that Quentin was a genius. I didn’t get much of a sense of Quentin at all, other than his reverence (I’m thinking hard for a more apt word, but I don’t think there is one–my impression is that he didn’t lust for his sister, but that there was a tragically strong bond between the two of them. A too-closeness that could not be helped) for his sister.
“If you can’t think of any other way to surprise them, give them a bust in the jaw.”
I don’t feel more satisfied with the straightforward chapters. It’s an odd thing to come into after so much jumping and twisting.
At end, I feel like things have gone to shit and the South/family is crumbling, but I might only feel that way because I did enough college to know that’s a theme of Faulkner.
I didn’t really consider the harshness of separating mother and daughter. I think in the face of trying to put together a story, I simply accepted it. That or I hate women.
When you say mother hatred do you mean of the matriarch of the whole Compson? I’m not sure she had a name. Though she wasn’t bed-ridden, she seemed it. Despite its melodrama, her “I must suffer for the sake of my family, give me your sins, this is what I deserve for living my life” mentality rang very true for me. Probably for you as well, Catholic. I am that, but it’s hard for me to be sympathetic to it.
I was expecting far more racism. This wasn’t even that bad, unless I missed something. Kinda your everyday, “can’t trust ’em” mentality. Not that bad means about the same as today, which means we haven’t progressed much. Which isn’t true though.
I believed the mother, that Quentin had killed herself, so she was dead for me the whole time she was running off.
Valerie’s response to Mike’s review
Those first 10 pages are very unsettling, I agree. I didn’t wikipedia it (nice verb, btw) so I had no clue what it was about, I bought the book at some point because I knew Faulkner is some serious good shit. Tho predictably depressing – As I Lay Dying was required undergrad reading. All great lit is so fucking sad… And your assessment of his themes is spot on.
I called Quentin genius but I think it’s really Faulkner. He’s able to turn a story in four diverse perspectives, from nearly incoherent to lucid. Quentin’s was my favorite chapter because of the prose pleasure you mentioned, and the unpredictability of his personality. You did not imagine the violence – doesn’t he get his ass kicked by the girl’s brother? I don’t have my copy here to check but I recall some tension. I never thought he hurt the girl, though. The setup similarity between your stories is what made my mind itch.
I think the creepy part of the racism portrayed by Faulkner is that it’s such a part of everyday life. You say you were expecting more, I guess you mean as in being more overt or having some lynchmob kind of incident. To me, the casual pervasiveness of racist attitudes toward their everyday companions is the freakiest kind of bigotry.
The matriarch was insufferable, almost caricature, but her sons didn’t help matters by indulging her and resenting her privately. The misogynist vibe included the sisterhatred coming from the brother toward his banished sister. It is the cruelest punishment to keep a mother from her child…
I never once thought Quentin offed herself — way too spunky for that. Plus I knew that the Compson ma was unreliable hysterical.
I wish the appendix had been listed at the beginning, at least in a TOC… the discovery felt like finding the glossary at the end of A Clockwork Orange.
Quentin does get beat up. I don’t know if the beginning of the beating is told–I think it may be woven into other pieces of information–so I had forgotten it.
I’m trying to think of something significant to say about the structure, but I can’t. To be able to pull this off is ridiculous. Everything I type sounds tacky and college so I’ll leave it there.
I did expect a great moment of violence that never came. Casual, pervasive racism is still so common, that I don’t find it all that shocking. There’s a small difference between pervasive racism with those you do not interact and those you do, but not much. I hear “fucking Asians” a lot at work. I have my own doubts of my own racism. The short storyline: Race doesn’t exist in Southwest Wisconsin. I was punk. Smash Racism! Suicide Machines! Turns out race is kinda at the forefront of Oakland, even if it’s unspoken. And when kids start beating you and throwing things at you and yelling at you at night, you tend to notice. Do I cross the street because they’re a group of kids or because they’re a group of black kids? Do I notice how many Asian drivers cut me off because that theory was implanted in my head or because there actually are more? It does seem to be while at work, which is nearish Chinatown: related? Whether small, subtle, everyday violence or overt violence is worse, I have no opinion.
That’s what mothers do: be insufferable. (I hope you’re not reading this mom, because you’re not insufferable, but I think we can both agree we’ve found each other insufferable before. (Again, she’s not reading this.))
My edition had a foreword that told of the appendix, but since it was at the end and wasn’t mentioned in the text, I felt like I was cheating to look at it and didn’t really until the end. (Though wikipedia isn’t cheating? I have strange standards.)