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Worth The Trouble

  • Jul 8, 2009
Is it worth your time to read a book that toys with your ability to make any sense of it?

Normally, I'd say no, but "The Sound And The Fury" is a loud exception. You'll have to read it twice to figure out what is going on, but when you do, you'll find yourself riveted by a tale revolving around the glory and sordidness of human existence.

Told in four wildly divergent sections, the novel tells the story of the Compson family, once proud members of Mississippi aristocracy now reduced to a state of genteel near-poverty. Each is screwed up in his or her own special way: from the self-pitying matriarch obsessed with the purity of her family line; to her mentally retarded son Benjamin; to her other living son Jason, a study in bitter cussedness who plots against everyone but manages to damage himself most. Another son, Quentin, killed himself at Harvard, though he waited until the end of the school year to get his tuition's worth.

"The Sound And The Fury" is a book not of meaning but of subjective emotions as unique to the reader as to the characters, an immersive experience that makes more sense as it draws you in.

Unfortunately, that doesn't begin to happen for most of us until you make it through the opening chapter, which presents a day in the life of the Compsons as seen through the inarticulate Benjamin circa 1929, when the novel was published. At first, as one stumbles back and forth through various incarnations of Benjamin's life, this seems a major mistake. But as the chapter continues, a rhythm develops, along with a sense of Benjamin as a kind of time portal for viewing the Compson story in "then-and-now" fashion.

The theme of time's ebb and flow continues in the next chapter, Quentin's stream of consciousness on the last day of his life 17 years early. More becomes clear, such as the concept of honor Quentin holds so dear and his tortured relationship both with his nihilistic father and with his sister Candace, the novel's true hero according to the author, though a mysterious one as we only see her through the eyes of the other characters. Quentin agonizes about Caddy's sex life and his own oppressive concept of time, making his chapter sometimes even tougher than Benjamin's, but when you do read it with enough effort, you feel like you have unlocked a critical aspect of the novel, that is its message of existential despair.

"Man the sum of what have you," Quentin recalls his father saying. "A problem in impure properties carried tediously to an unvarying nil: stalemate of dust and desire."

Whether William Faulkner was really writing such a novel is a subject that keeps literary professors in tweed. Certainly the next section is his darkest, though not without a certain cosmic justice and a great deal of comedy. It features Jason, my favorite character for his wholesale miserableness and self-absorption. Faulkner in his Appendix, found at the end of the book, calls Jason "the first sane Compson" in a while, but Jason has a few screws loose, and is just as unmoored by the passage of time. He is still sore about a missed bank job from 17 years ago, and endlessly brings it up in self-pitying conversation with his overbearing mother.

Jason's take on what ails his family: "Blood, I says, governors and generals. It's a damn good thing we never had any kings and presidents, or we'd all be down there at Jackson chasing butterflies."

After Jason comes the final, clearest chapter, focusing on Dilsey, the black woman who makes it her job to look after the surviving Compsons, no matter how unappreciative and downright nasty they are about it. A mesmerizing church service on Easter provides a note of closure, and perhaps redemption, in an otherwise emotionally ravaging tale. "I've seed the first and de last," she says.

For the Compsons, life is a circus of pain and meaninglessness, but for Dilsey at least, there is some reward, perhaps just temporal, a sense of enduring and thus justifying oneself. Reading "The Sound And The Fury" may be difficult, too, but it offers its own deeply satisfying if somewhat inexpressible rewards.

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More The Sound And the Fury reviews
review by . April 05, 2008
Disturbing images and strong characters are reduced to baffling shadows by Faulkner's extreme stream of consciousness writing style. There is no discernible plot here, although one can sense a general downward trend in family fortunes, in every way: materially, spiritually, genetically, historically, and cooperatively.    And plenty of anger, which seems to infuse every character's interaction with the extended family and the surrounding community. This fury produces plenty of …
Quick Tip by . July 22, 2010
Worth the challenge. My favorite Faulkner work, but it takes some work to get through it.
review by . November 30, 2009
It's all up to you whether you find value in this notoriously difficult novel, or whether you hurl it into the fireplace in frustration. You don't have to read it. If you do, you needn't feel ashamed of either response... assuming you're free from the bonds of high school English classes. You'll need all your resources of unflagging attention, tenacious memory, and orthographic competence with dialect just to grasp the central events of the story, but even then you may be frustrated by the realization …
review by . November 30, 2009
...whether you find value in this notoriously difficult novel, or whether you hurl it into the fireplace in frustration. You needn't feel ashamed of either response... assuming you're free from the bonds of high school English classes. You'll need all your resources of unflagging attention, tenacious memory, and orthographic competence with dialect just to grasp the central events of the story, but even then you may be frustrated by the realization that the story isn't the centerpiece of the book. …
review by . May 15, 2009
This is William Faulkner's fourth book and considered by many to be one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written...and after reading this book and writing this review I share those sentiments. And yet, when you listen to Faulkner describe his depiction into the decline of the aristocratic Compson family, he considered it to be his best failure. The book comes at you in four sections with each being told by a different narrative...so let's explore Faulkner's best failure, shall we? The first …
review by . December 13, 2006
Pros: Interesting narrative style     Cons: This flavor of stream of consciousness is not for a casual reader     The Bottom Line: This is an intellectual exercise rather than a nice, curl up while it is raining read.     The Sound and the Fury isn’t the first of the Yoknapatawpha novels; it is the second. William Faulkner wrote what he called Flags in the Dust which was edited a bit by Ben Wasson because he believed that Flags was …
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Bill Slocum ()
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Reading is my way of eavesdropping on a thousand conversations, meeting hundreds of new and fascinating people, and discovering what it is about the world I enjoy most. Only after a while, I lose track … more
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The ostensible subject ofThe Sound and the Furyis the dissolution of the Compsons, one of those august old Mississippi families that fell on hard times and wild eccentricity after the Civil War. But in fact what William Faulkner is really after in his legendary novel is the kaleidoscope of consciousness--the overwrought mind caught in the act of thought. His rich, dark, scandal-ridden story of squandered fortune, incest (in thought if not in deed), madness, congenital brain damage, theft, illegitimacy, and stoic endurance is told in the interior voices of three Compson brothers: first Benjy, the "idiot" man-child who blurs together three decades of inchoate sensations as he stalks the fringes of the family's former pasture; next Quentin, torturing himself brilliantly, obsessively over Caddy's lost virginity and his own failure to recover the family's honor as he wanders around the seedy fringes of Boston; and finally Jason, heartless, shrewd, sneaking, nursing a perpetual sense of injury and outrage against his outrageous family.

If Benjy's section is the most daringly experimental, Jason's is the most harrowing. "Once a bitch always a bitch, what I say," he begins, lacing into Caddy's illegitimate daughter, and then proceeds to hurl mud at blacks, Jews, his sacred Compson ancestors, his glamorous, promiscuous sister, his doomed brother Quentin, his ailing mother, and the long-suffering black servant Dilsey who holds the family ...

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ISBN-13: 978-0739325353
Publisher: Random House
Date Published: July 30, 2005

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