Okay, only a week behind. Not too shabby!
I wasn't sure whether to expect the more breezy Faulkner prose of As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury or the crazy dense but still very readable prose of Absalom, Absalom — but Light in August is a very easy read for me so far. There are definitely some sentences that make me pause to think on them a while, but I like that. One early example: "The train could be stopped with a red flag, but by ordinary it appeared out of the devastated hills with apparitionlike suddenness and wailing like a banshee, athwart and past that little less-than-village like a forgotten bead from a broken string." There's so much to love in that sentence. I want to start saying "by ordinary" instead of "ordinarily" — so much cooler. And then I love the shift in imagery as the train goes past the "less-than-village", with the "wailing banshee" simile giving way to a mind-boggling comparison to a "forgotten bead from a broken string." I'm not positive I know what Faulkner means by that, but that might be the very reason it makes me smile.
Compared to characters in later chapters, Lena seems much more than a caricature early on; a sketch. Still, there's something very appealing about her. I especially love the winking way Faulkner introduces her pregnancy: "She lived there eight years before she opened the window for the first time. She had not opened it a dozen times before she discovered that she should not have opened it at all." The purity of her simplicity is a little generic; I hope there's more nuance to her character down the line. In fact, I have that same hope for women in the novel in general. Armistid's thought that "it's only a bad woman herself that is likely to be very kind to another woman that needs the kindness' thinking" made me smile as a blanket generalization, but I hope it's a sentiment that the novel as a whole finds ways to bely.
"Jollifying" is a fantastic word.
So is "eggmoney" ...
I totally smiled to see that chapter two began with Byron Bunch at its center. The end of chapter one sets him up as a red herring in Lena's quest, one that we'll probably never meet, and right away in chapter two Faulkner counters that expectation. Awesome. And then, late in the chapter, when I hit the line, "Then Byron fell in love," I smiled all the more. In retrospect it seems kind of neat and obvious, but somehow Faulkner caught me offguard with that turn.
Something about a character named Christmas really appeals to me. I was a little disappointed to learn it was a last name instead of a first name, but it's still pretty cool.
Like FifthCityMuse, I'm loving all the joined words here. I didn't realize before that hyphens were ruining our language. They certainly would have ruined the end of this sentence: "Hightower alone knows where he goes and what he does there, because two or three nights a week Bunch visits Hightower in the small house where the exminister lives alone, in what the town calls his disgrace—the house unpainted, small, obscure, poorly lighted, mansmelling, manstale." Terrific.
Beautiful end to the chapter, when Lena inquires if Joe Brown has that scar and Byron "could have bitten his tongue in two."
Again, Faulkner countered my expectations my shifting the focus here to Gail Hightower. I was content and even eager to spend more time with the other characters we'd already met, but Faulkner quickly got me just as interested in this seemingly periphery character. I love the combination of things on his sign: "Art Lessons, Handpainted Xmas & Anniversary Cards, Photographs Developed," and I love the fluidity of the way Faulker recounts Hightower's history largely through what Bunch was told when he got to town. Something about that just worked really well for me. I wish I had a better sense of Hightower's sermons, though; the repeated mentions of how "he couldn't get religion and that galloping cavalry and his dead grandfather shot from the galloping horse untangled from each other" sounded cool, but I couldn't really picture it. And it just seemed a bit much after a while; overly schematic, or something. I'm totally sold on the mystery of what drew him to the town in the first place and what's keeping him there; look forward to learning some answers there.
Love this sentiment: "It is because a fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he's already got. He'll cling to trouble he's used to before he'll risk a change." Reminded me of the obstacles we have in getting universal healthcare in America.
Here again the story continues to spiral farther and farther away from where it started and where it seemed to be headed. I like the shift to Christmas; I didn't expect him to be a central player here (or maybe the central player, judging by the subsequent chapters), and again I like how we explore him through the discussion of two other characters we've already spent some time with (Bunch and Hightower). I practically gasped at the line, in reference to that accusation that Christmas is part black, "You better be care what you are saying, if it is a white man you are talking about. ... I don't care if he is a murderer or not." I want to think that that's overly broad portrait, but, sigh, probably not. On the other hand, I found Hightower's reaction to some of this to be pretty weird, especially when he says, "Is it certain, proved, that he has negro blood? Think, Byron; what will it mean when the people——if they catch. . . . . . . Poor man. Poor mankind." That left me a little ... let's say befuddled.
Given all the recent economic news, I smiled to read, "It beats all how some folks think that making or getting money is a kind of game where there are not any rules at all."
Another chapter with Christmas as its focus, but now without Byron and Hightower as narrative intermediaries. I'm wondering now if it's really his story and Lena was just a semi-pleasant way into something darker or what? Like Lena, Christmas seemed more of a sketch than a character at first. Just such an extreme portrait of the tight-lipped guy who keeps to himself. Even taking into account everything through chapter seven, I'm not sure he seems quite real to me yet, though all the backstory is helping.
I loved the perfect encapsulation of the magazine "of that type whose covers bear either pictures of young women in underclothes or pictures of men in the act of shooting one another with pistols." There's like a whole American Studies course in that sentence.
And here's a line that made me laugh out loud, but not in a good way: "It was as though he and all other manshaped life about him had been returned to the lightless hot wet primogenitive Female." Doesn't really fuel my hopes of getting a female character in the novel to rise above a symbolic type. And the whole bit about Christmas wandering into Freedman Town then running away, that felt a little neat and generic.
This chapter begins with Faulkner's prose at its most fun. I recommend reading the first paragraph aloud. The rhythm of the words is fantastic: "Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders. Knows remembers believes a corridor in a big long garbled cold echoing building of dark red brick sootbleakened by more chimneys than its own, set in a grassless cinderstrewnpacked compound surrounded by smoking factory purlieus and enclosed by a ten foot steel-and-wire fence like a penitentary or a zoo, where in random erratic surges, with sparrowlike childtrebling, orphans in identical and uniform blue denium in and out of remembering but in knowing constant as the bleak walls, the bleak windows where in rain soot from the yearly adjacenting chimneys streaked like black tears."
So, we stick with Christmas still. I'm cool with that. The Janitor character felt very wrong to me at first ("When He is ready, He will reveal it to her.") but I accepted him in time. I really liked how, with Christmas at age five or whatever, the omniscience of the narration becomes a little more limited, with a lot of qualifiers (usually, "perhaps"): "He noticed that but said nothing, perhaps thought nothing. ... Perhaps he expected to be punished upon his return, for what, for what crime exactly, he did not expect to know, since he had already learned that, though children can accept adults as adults, adults can never accept children as anything but adults too. ... Perhaps he remembered suddenly the train ride and the food, since even memory did not go much further back than that." I'm not sure whether to read this as the narrator being conscious of the fact that he or she can't really know the mind of a child ("adults can never accept children as anything but adults") or more as stemming from the idea that children don't really know their own minds, have a very limited self-awareness. Either way, I like it.
Love this paragraph near the end, too: "The child was not listening. He was not bothered. He did not especially care, anymore than if the man had said the day was hot when it was not hot. He didn't even bother to say to himself My name aint McEachern. My name is Christmas There was no need to bother about that yet. There was plenty of time." The set-off italics worked especially well there, since my eyes read that first, only to later learn that it was mentioned as something the child was not thinking.
A third Christmas chapter in a row makes me wonder if we've finally settled on a protagonist, yet I know now that the story could go pretty much anywhere from here and I'd probably be okay with that. Faulkner's definitely earned my trust with these first seven chapters. The setup here of the stern, righteous father disciplining his scared son with quiet, well-meaning mother trying to help in the background — that was all pretty generic. And yet the last lines of the chapter made it totally work for me: "She was trying to make me cry. Then she thinks that she would have had me."
So I'm not head-over-heels in love with this book yet, but I'm definitely liking it and looking forward to reading more and seeing how all these threads come together. It's a joy to read so far, really. And I'm hoping Mrs. Burden gets her on chapter at some point; there's something very intriguing about her.