Friday, August 22, 2014

The Sound and The Fury by William Faulkner

I've lost count of the number of times I've read Faulkner's masterpiece, The Sound and The Fury, a novel I unabashedly call the finest example of the written English language I've encountered so far.

Like a favorite album by a favorite band, Sound has lost none of its appeal for me, even the audiobook version this time around. And each time I re-experience what Faulkner called his novel he loved the most, the one he worked hardest and longest on, his most splendid failure, I discover a bit more.

This time I noticed something about the novel's four part structure, a structure in which the same tale is told from four viewpoints. And what I noticed was a discongruity between the viewpoint and how that viewpoint is written.

"Through the fence, between the curling flower spaces, I could see them hitting."

As many of my friends who've started but never finished Sound know, the first of its four parts is told from the viewpoint of a mentally challenged person. And while the prose can be exasperating because of its lack of adherence to any timeline, its limited vocablulary, and its reliance on experiences, Benjy may be the most truthful and honest of the four storytellers.

And when you make it to Quentin's part 2, the Harvard student and Benjy's brother, and you think you've been dealt a reprieve from part 1, you find that Quentin's rapidly deteriorating mental state distorts what he does, what he says, and what he tells you. At his core, Quentin is truthful, but his struggle to accept that truth is reflected in writing that is virtually bereft of puncutation and adherence to rules of grammar.

Brother Jason's third section is heavy with dialog and, accordingly, very easy to read. But Jason's inept, ineffectual, infertile rage and bitterness completely distorts his viewpoint making everything he says suspect and turning him into a form of comic relief.

The fourth storyteller is Faulkner himself as he assumes a 3rd person role centered on Dilsey the family servant. Here the storytelling is almost lyrical and displays Faulkner's exquisite ability to interweave exactingly realistic dialog and painterly descriptions of scene and setting, especially nature. And as the novel draws to a close, again centered on Benjy, Faulkner ends with a line that is so pure, so crystaline in thought, so transparent and linear that it's almost shocking, especially as it contrasts to the opening line.

"[Ben's] eyes were empty and blue and serene again as cornice and facade flowed smoothly once more from left to right, post and tree, window and doorway and signboard each in its ordered place."

So as the novel's prose evolves from the impenetrable to the richly descriptive, we see the story devolve from the pure truth to the disturbed, the delusional, and the resigned. Benjy no longer suffers the curling spaces and sees everything in well-ordered and timeless linearity.

Tips for those attempting to read Sound:

  1. There are two Maury's, two Jason's, and two Quentins - sometimes with different genders and sometimes with a different name altogether.
  2. Don't try to understand it all at once from a plot standpoint. It's only after reading the entire novel that you see who was doing what when.

No comments: