The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
A dysfunctional Mississippi family has a black family of six for servants. The story begins in the voice of Benjy, formerly Maury, who is a thirty-three-year-old babbling idiot, mute and unable to care for himself. Everyone except his parents agree that he should be in the insane asylum. Next, Quentin assumes the narration. He is away at Harvard, but his ability to articulate is no better than Benjy’s. Finally, a third person narrator tells the story of angry Jason, who is working to support his hypochondriac mother, wanton niece, also called Quentin, and of course, the six black servants, who are treated little differently than slaves. It is, however, the matriarch of the black family, Dilsey, who keeps things together. There was also Caddy, who may, or may not have committed incest with her brother, Quentin. I’m vague on this because Caddy, who was a major player when Benjy told the tale in his psychotic jabbering, dropped out of the story except for fleeting and imprecise references. And that’s the whole story.
When I last went looking for reading material, I thought I should broaden my literary scope, so decided to try Faulkner for the first time. He being one of the foremost American writers, I expected something on par with Hemingway. Little did I expect a story that makes Tom Robbins’ hopped-up prose sound conventional, and rivals Lewis Carroll for craziness. Great swaths of The Sound and the Fury are completely lacking punctuation and capitalization, and huge sections are the mind-stream of madmen. It is so complicated, that I never really assimilated who all the characters were. The business of there being a male and female Quentin wasn’t clear to me until the last chapter, when female Quentin takes off with a showman in a travelling carnival, but what became of male Quentin remained unclear. There is no conventional plot or story line that builds tension until the main character either triumphs or dies as in most novels. Many things are left unresolved, like the question of the supposed incest. I have a hard time not thinking that those pundits who acclaim this as great literature are the same folk who refused to stand and say, “The emperor has no clothes.” If I had written this, you’d laugh at me.
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