As I am getting older I find myself going back to read, or re-read, those books I was supposed to read in school many years ago. Although I majored in English, much of the required reading was over my head, partly because it was the late sixties and I was otherwise occupied and/or impaired. Now, at last, I can begin to appreciate the greats, and Faulkner is surely one of them. I took a reverse route to find him. I had read everything Cormac McCarthy had written and he vaguely reminded me of the one Faulkner book I could actually recall to memory. As I recently devoured "Light In August" it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was still reading Cormac McCarthy (or I should say I had been reading Faulkner all along?)
"Light In August" is really a study of race relations, bigotry, sex and religion in the American south of the early twentieth century, although it can certainly be extrapolated to describe almost any culture in which bloody conflict is often the result of confused righteousness. The examples in our time are too obvious. McCarthy is no stranger to righteousness and bloody conflict himself, but the similarities between the two authors go beyond time and place. In the work of both there is the darkness of the brooding characters, unbelievably beautiful descriptions of landscape and unbelievably horrid descriptions of violence, all described in often esoteric, yet precise language. Keep a dictionary handy.
Faulkner and McCarthy can both be difficult to read but the rewards are rich. All through my reading of "Light In August" I realized that I would want to read it again. Multiple stories, in different places about different characters, are eventually forged into one, but it takes a little time to get there. Unlike Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying", in which each chapter is a different character's narration and experience of the same story, "Light" is one narrator speaking for different characters at different times, all contributing to the same story. Every character becomes a story unto him or herself, whether violent, clownish, righteous, or downright endearing, and is mixed into a stew that eventually is discovered to be a very carefully prepared and well-seasoned dish.