Furthering my exploration of William Faulkner, this 1931 novel was certainly a strange and dark one. According to Faulkner, this was a novel that was “a cheap idea because it was deliberately conceived to make money. I had been writing books for about five years, which got published but not bought.” A strange thought in my mind since I sincerely feel that this novel was way ahead of its time. It reads like something that could have easily been written today. The plot is complex but at it’s heart it’s a brilliant “noir” concerning rape, kidnapping, bootlegging, false accusations, class differences and of course a commentary on the “southern way of life.” It is truly a dark and disturbing story. And the writing is simply wonderful, as this passage will attest:
A final saffron-colored light lay upon the ceiling and the upper walls, tinged already with purple by the serrated palisade of Main Street high against the western sky. She watched it fade as the successive yawns of the shade consumed it. She watched the final light condense into the clock face, and the dial change from a round orifice in the darkness to a disc suspended in nothingness, the original chaos, and change in turn to a crystal ball holding in its still and cryptic depths the ordered chaos of the intricate and shadowy world upon whose scarred flanks the old wounds whirl onward at dizzy speed into darkness lurking with new disasters.
I don’t see how Faulkner felt that this novel was written purely “to make money” since it is far from something just “spit out” for the masses, even by today’s standards. It is artfully written, and the story is artfully told, despite it’s “potboiler” elements. And despite the crime fiction sensibility this story has, it’s also not a “beach read”, something disposable and easy. You have to pay attention here - as with all of Faulkner’s novels I’ve read thus far. It was said that this was the novel that was Faulkner’s commercial breakthrough and established Faulkner’s reputation as a novelist. After reading this, it’s easy to see why. A highly recommended read.