Thursday, April 28, 2011

Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner

In the deep South, a mob gathers outside the local jail intent on one thing: lynching Lucas Beauchamp, a defiant - some might call uppity - black man accused of shooting a local white man in the back.  Drawing upon a debt of kindness from four years prior, Lucas calls upon young Charles "Chick" Mallison Jr. to help him prove his innocence.  After all, when something needs doing, you don't seek the help of men - you seek the help of women and children.  Chick, a friend, and an aging spinster find themselves on a ghoulish midnight mission to find the proof they need.  Their startling find eventually leads Chick to a confrontation with the dead man's gun-toting father.  Lucas wants what's fair and Chick wants what's right.  The question is, can they get it before the mob gets what they want?

Perhaps this isn't how you recall William Faulkner's Intruder in the Dust.  That plot summary could've been for a modern Hollywood big-screen production starring Denzel Washington as Lucas and Zac Efron as Chick.  (This is why I'm not a casting agent.)  But someone I know is reading this for school so I revisited this work by my favorite author.

My preference for Faulkner was met with incredulity: "He's your favorite?  His sentences never end!"  It's true that Intruder is written in Faulkner's well-known stream of consciousness style, some of the best of which occurs in the opening chapters.
...he didn't know how it happened, something a girl might have been expected and even excused for doing but nobody else, halfway over the footlog and not even thinking about it who had walked the top rail of a fence many a time twice that far when all of a sudden the known familiar sunny winter earth was upside down and flat on his face and still holding the gun he was rushing not away from the earth but away from the bright sky and he could remember still the tin bright tinkle of the breaking ice and how he didn't even feel the shock of the water but only of the air when he came up again.
Faulkner uses his inimitable prose and his unparalleled skill at dialog to craft a tale, not necessarily of murder and intrigue, but one of men, and race, and history, and the South.  Faulkner's well known quote about there being no past, that the past always being inescapably present, comes to play here.  Fittingly for a high school reading assignment, young people have a role to play in resolving the South's legacy.  One only need one ask oneself who's the intruder and what's this dust?


Francis Shivone said...

Thanks. I need to read this book.

You know, it takes concentration to read Faulkner, something I am losing, but that quote you put up there shows his greatness. Amazing.

It is somewhat like your quote on modern art. Everybody thinks, I could do that, that is, ramble on, but you can't because it's not really rambling on, it's writing like we think, which is not binarily(?), or like a parsed sentence, but analogically.

Ridiculously difficult to do well.


Anyway, I'm making that a summer Kindle read.

John said...

Intruder is a relatively quick read - I was able to finish it in a roundtrip flight to the East coast.

However, I consider The Sound and The Fury to be the finest example of the written English word. But it's a steeper hill to climb. Depends on how much time you want to commit.

cd0103 said...

I agree- it isn't one of Faulkner's "Big Four", but a great read. I love Faulkner. His short stories, the best.