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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

End of the Frontier

Light in August (The Corrected Text) - William Faulkner

Light in August  is the final book in my Faulkner set and one, in some ways, grander in scope than the previous volumes.


Unlike As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury this story is not beholden to one family. We follow a daisy chain from character to character in narrative that  incorporates all the themes Faulkner had been writing about in the other novels in this set: sex, family, piety, church, small towns, long roads and racism.


We start with Lena Grove, walking across states to find Lucas Burch the fled father of her unborn child, she finds her way to Byron Bunch instead who unwittingly informs her of the father's presence, he now going by the name Joe Brown and rooming with Joe Christmas in a shed behind the house of Joanna Burden. Bunch also seeks the advice of disgrace former minister Gail Hightower.


Reading Faulkner is like visiting a friend in their small hometown diner, where everyone has a story that goes back generations, colored by who is telling it. The story itself moves along incrementally as we get one step further then leap four decades back. We learn about Hightower's family in the civil war, how the Burden family came to Jefferson and why they had been seen with suspicion, and so on.


The backgrounds always brought me back to the James Joyce quote, "History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." Fate and history seem always to be closely tied in Faulkner's work. You aren't necessarily doomed by your history, but it is going to come up and there are not a lot of cheery endings.


See: Joe Christmas. He fought against his ambiguous racial background - though he usually passes for a foreigner its believed by him and his grandfather that he is part black, which others tend "discover" when he has broken the law - as well as an exceptionally cruel stepfather. Early accounts portray him seem something of a man's man: quiet, tough, hard working, keeps to himself. He sees himself that way too, mostly after his adoption. In the orphanage the race question made him an outcast, but he still sough comfort from other children, after a few years of abuse he's been made hard and is confused and angered by sympathy and - perhaps more appropriately - religion.


 Race itself could launch a thousand essays, particularly on this novel. Christmas's relationship to his ambiguous heritage and how he uses it to punish others is particularly fertile ground and the way language turns after the murder and it starts to circulate that he is part black. It wasn't merely Jim Crow, the legacy of slavery and the subjugation of an entire race was a legacy that lived on in the south and throughout the country.


The south in this novel, and Faulkner's others, appears like a frontier the country skipped over. Nothing is new here, the land has been settled and the few new arrivals are treated with suspicion and malice - see Hightower and especially Burden. Still, there remains an atmosphere of cruelty, the flip side of the hearty frontiersman that has given politicians stiffies for over a century. Parents visit it on children who grow up and visit it on their own. The weak (physically or morally) are judged harshly as are those that associate with them. 


We make our own way out, as unlikely as those routes may be, and none as unlikely as the travels of our hero Lena Grove, but you'll have to finish the book to learn about her.