Friday, October 30, 2015

Book Review: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

I'm not sure what I was thinking to just pick up this book and read it with no previous exposure to it whatsoever other than it was said to be Faulkner's best book. I can't quite decide if my complete ignorance was a good or bad thing, but I did read the book fully and I decided to still review what I did glean.

The Sound and the Fury is the story of the Compson family, a once aristocratic family from Northern Mississippi that has fallen with each generation only to arrive at the generation in the book itself. The story takes place over Easter weekend in 1928 and is told mostly through the eyes of the hree Compson sons: Quentin, Jason, and Benjy. Quentin is the oldest and is severely depressed with many neuroses. Quentin goes to Harvard in 1910 and his account is told from his experience there. Jason is incredibly cruel and resentful of his other siblings, becoming a menial shop worker in their small town while stealing money from his family members on the side. Benjy is severely mentally handicapped, and has very little hold on time and his experiences. Caddy is the sister of the three boys and she acts as a mother -like figure for Benjy and Quentin.

The true difficulty with this story is in how it is told. The first section is told through the eyes of Benjy. Not only does this section make little sense due to Benjy's perception of his surroundings, but it is compounded by the fact that this section also dances back and forth from his present time to memories of his childhood with no differentiation between the two. Reading this section really gave a great representation of what it must be like to be autistic or some other mental processing issue because even with all the jumping around you are able to pull out just a few facts and understand what has happened. The next section is told by Quentin, who is easier to understand but not by much. Quentin's severe depression leaves him in a very troubled mental state, having unannounced flash backs that don't make much sense until later in the story. Quentin's section is the only account told in a different time period altogether - during his year at Harvard in 1910. Quentin commits suicide at the end of his part. Jason's tale comes next, which is much easier to read though certainly much less pleasant than the others. Jason is down right heartless. The sister, Caddy, sleeps around in her youth, getting pregnant and not knowing who the father is. She quickly marries the first willing man, only to be publicly cast off when he discovers she's carrying someone else's child. Caddy is disowned by her family, but her daughter (also named Quentin after her dead brother) is taken in and kept away from her mother's socially tainting influence. Jason uses this situation to his advantage by telling Caddy that he is taking her money to contribute to bringing up her child, only to pocket the money himself. He is belligerent, and resents Caddy's social fall that he feels stuck him where he is in life - working at someone else's store. The final section is mostly told by the family's black servant, Dilsey, but is also filled in by an omniscient narrator. This is where you find out most of the true details of the story, none of which are very pleasant. This section of the story focuses on the granddaughter, Quentin, and how the family fears she is following her mother's footsteps.

I will openly admit that when I finished this book ... I had almost no idea what I had just read. I did not understand most of what happened, even though the writing had me completely engaged the entire time. I had to Google search, "What the heck happened?" and read several explanations before things started to take shape. I felt like a dummy having completely missed two HUGE plot points, but after reading about the real meaning behind the book I did not feel quite so bad about my overlooking them. My own explanation of this book would be that it is more of an experience than a story. Starting off the tale through the incredibly hard to follow Benjy certainly kept things interesting, but it really made the title ring true for me. The plot is not the point - it's about the sound and the fury, both of which are readily represented by each of the characters in their own way. I had to stew over what I had just read for a few days before I could even decide if I liked it - that's the effect it has. In the end, it's a much more amazing book than I could possibly explain in this quick synopsis. I encourage everyone to read it with an open mind and see where it takes you. The style of the writing gives an ominous feeling as the story progresses, so you are able to feel the implications of the plot even if (like me) you miss out on main plot events. I'm grateful for the experience of reading this, and I may even read it through again with my better understanding to see what I missed. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

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