Every so often I'll get to feeling guilty about some gap in my literary education and set out to fill it. One of these persistent gaps relates to Southern writers, and so some time ago, an interminable time ago, indeed, a time that stretches back, it seems, even to 1864 and before, to those long hot afternoons filled with the scent of wisterias and endless resentments of the sort like unto those between Cain and Abel, except that in that case it was at least clear from whence the resentment sprang, whereas the resentments of Yoknapatawpha County are shrouded in grime and darkness as the globe of a front porch light, encrusted with the bodies of insects and the dust and detritus of the years since some man, or woman even, attempted to dispel the hot darkness of the southern night be installing electricity in the house which was never designed for such a thing, which indeed rejected the very idea of such an illumination with all the strength of its soul, if it had a soul, and seemed with active malice to darken and engrime those objects of unnatural light which had been so futily imposed upon it, at such a time, that is, I began to read Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!.
I would not want, of course, to scare other readers away from such a course. Absalom, Absalom! does move along in its way -- which is to say that that the underlying plot is interesting, and if you can manage to get through the first 170 pages of this 300 page book, it starts to pick up the pace a bit and give you some promise that you will actually find out what exactly it is that happened forty and sixty and seventy years before the primary frame of 1910 that has everyone feeling so Gothic.
I did finish, and I'm more or less glad that I did, though I don't think I'll be attempting any more Faulkner or other writers of the South for a while -- and even finishing this one eventually required that I take the extreme measure of not starting any other books until I finished it, since I knew that if I did it would all be over.
Fortnightly Book, December 4
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