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Absalom, Absalom!: The Corrected Text (Modern Library)

1 rating: 3.0
A book by William Faulkner

The story of Thomas Sutpen, an enigmatic stranger who came to Jefferson in the early 1830s to wrest his mansion out of the muddy bottoms of the north Mississippi wilderness. He was a man, Faulkner said, "who wanted sons and the sons destroyed him."   … see full wiki

Tags: Books
Author: William Faulkner
Publisher: Modern Library
1 review about Absalom, Absalom!: The Corrected Text (Modern...

Points Of Skew

  • Jan 11, 2010
I'm so glad it's not just me that had a tough time reading this book. Actually, I thought Faulkner's earlier "The Sound And The Fury" is a tougher first read, its opening stream of consciousness narrative set in the mind of a simpleton. What 1936's "Absalom, Absalom!" is is a tough second read, making it a harder pill to swallow.

The challenge as I found it was not quite the same as "Sound". There, once you lock into the story, the digressions and the abstract metaphors fall nicely into place. Here, you never quite lock into the story exactly. It follows a man by the name of Sutpen, who carves out a corner of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi for his own. This doesn't endear him to everyone, but he manages to find a bride, settle down, raise two children, and run his spread with the help of some wild Haitian slaves, one of which is his illegitimate daughter. Then comes the Civil War, a tidal wave of change by itself but the least of Thomas Sutpen's problems.

Faulkner makes Sutpen a compelling if mysterious central character. A slaveholder, a hypocrite, a scoundrel, and a cruel "man-horse-demon" as his bitter sister-in-law Rosa Coldfield remembers, Sutpen emerges too as a man of great will and courage. Faulkner observes: "He had been too successful, you see; his was that solitude of contempt and distrust which success brings to him who gained it because he was strong instead of merely lucky."

Miss Rosa is the first tipoff the story isn't going to play out as straightforward as it reads. She's very bitter about Sutpen, as it turns out, in part for good reason, but in part because she's sexually uptight and a snob, mourning a social order Sutpen blew through like tissue paper.

Then there's Quentin Compson, a semester removed from his suicide at Harvard, sharing stories of Sutpen with his jocular Canadian roommate Shreve. Quentin's reminiscence is gentler than Rosa's, but farther removed from the source and tinged with strange melancholy. Maybe the tale of frustrated incest strikes a nerve.

The story doesn't so much come out in pieces as it revolves and gets respun with different accents and emphases. It's a hell of a story, "intense Southern Gothic", like it says in a top review here, with some sudden plot twists unusual for a deep-thought novel. That it goes on in this vein a bit too long, chewing over the same points, is a concern that doesn't melt away when you read the book a second time. Faulkner writes with power and verve, and a poet's flair, but he doesn't use periods nearly enough, overweighting sentences with layers of meaning that go off into corners and bounce back only after stretching a point to breaking.

I may need a couple of more readings before I come around to embracing this novel the same way I did with "The Sound And The Fury". It's not as fun, though some humor does show up, much of it involving the frigid, hypersensitive Rosa. It does provide major insight into the antebellum side of Yoknapatawpha County, with a hard but compelling look at slavery's toll on both black and white that nevertheless is far from the novel's whole story.

The story is great; the telling is problematic if mostly for the best. I'll enjoy re-immersing myself in the enigma that is "Absalom, Absalom!", but if I wind up more confused than ever the next time I read it, I won't be a bit surprised.

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