Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2018: Light in August by William Faulkner

I am just a lil’ bit behind on blogging.  I actually read Light in August back in August.  This book was my choice for the Back to the Classics Challenge category “Classic that Scares You”.  I think for most readers it is clear where the scare factor comes in! Faulkner is pretty famous (infamous?) for being difficult to read.  And this was the first book of his that I have ever finished (I started Wild Palms and Absalom, Absalom ages ago but never got too far in either). 

I finished Light in August, but did I understand it?  I am happy to report that it was very accessible, though not a particularly cheery book. Faulkner sprinkles portmanteau words like “fecundmellow” throughout the book which were interesting. I can see how they emphasize and add to the atmosphere. 

And this book has a lot of atmosphere.  The reader can almost chew it. The book opens with a young pregnant woman walking down a dusty road. Lena Grove has walked from Alabama to Mississippi because she has convinced herself that her baby’s daddy, Lucas Burch, just hasn’t gotten a chance to send for her yet.  When she gets to Jefferson, Mississippi she meets a former co-worker of Lucas’ named Byron Bunch who immediately falls in love with Lena.  Byron and his predicament, because he is an honorable man and feels bound to reunite Lena with the neer-do-well Lucas and Lena’s delusional devotion to Lucas, are almost the comic relief in the book. Only it is more of a tragic-comedy. 

Lena’s arrival in Jefferson coincides with a house on fire wherein a murdered woman has been found. The dead woman, Miss Burden, is an outcast, even though she is well off and white, because her father and grandfather were abolitionists from the North.  The book takes place in the 1920s but clearly the locals have long memories.  

That kicks off the story but there is so much more as the narrative twists and turns. The structure of the novel is interesting. I didn’t notice at first how far I had been lead from the opening until about half way through. The real focus is Joe Christmas, a drifter who had been living behind the Burden house and may or may not have been her killer and Joe may or may not be “black”.  The story eventually morphs into Joe’s story; how he ended up in Jefferson and why he behaves the way he does and it does finally lead back to where is starts. 

Light in August is a story of the South and a story of pathos, hatred, violence and racism.  Like I said, not cheery but definitely worth reading. Now that I’ve tackled Faulkner’s “easy” stuff I have to move on to As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury. Maybe next year? We’ll see