Top positive review
“Ringo was a little smarter than I was…though neither of us was to see the proof of my belief for some time yet…”
Reviewed in the United States on August 30, 2017
Having sought to undertake a literary appreciation of this great American novelist for some time now, I’ve, in the past, often found myself afloat in various segments of Faulkner’s works, reading shifting and protean examples but not ever developing a cohesive plan to actually appreciate his catalogue. By chance discovering a trusted web page that advised a suggested starting point for a guide to his novels, I grabbed a copy of this amazing canon and was immediately astounded by not only the approachability of the work (it is said that this is Faulkner’s most “readable” novel) but his amazing talent for transitioning from the hard-edged, late Civil War, indigenous Mississippi language to a more deep, nuanced and insightful observation, all seemingly in a single paragraph. I literally had to catch myself in my early reading to not miss a single sublime paragraph or exalted summary... indeed I found Faulkner exceedingly adroit at combining the two.
The story revolves around the very late stages of the Civil War, beginning just prior to Union General William Tecumseh Sherman’s scorching march throughout the South. Bayard Sartoris, the fifteen year old son of local Confederate regiment leader John Sartoris and John’s fifteen year old slave Ringo make up the main protagonists here, with the book’s POV being strictly that of Bayard. We discover the two boys as they grow from innocent plantation denizens, wary of the “war” but completely devoid of its circumstances or meaning, into men, suffering tragedy and personal loss at a young age.
Always connected, as if on a spiritual level, even as Bayard goes off to college, the two provide the vehicle for Faulkner to describe the harrowing environment facing the victims of Sherman’s wrath. And as they grow, it is Bayard who recognizes in Ringo, a natural intelligence and forlorn motivation for justice.
This relationship becomes important for reasons that become apparent at the end of the book. Faulkner eloquently ties together all the disparate ends of this rather complex tome and does so with an amazing grace and literary fortitude that certainly solidifies his reputation. His writing here is said to lead to the more complex “stream of consciousness” style that he is famous for in works like “Absalom! Absalom!” and “The Sound and the Fury” but to me it is just amazingly literary:
“What counted was, what one of us had done or seen that the other
had not, and ever since that Christmas I had been ahead of Ringo
because I had seen a railroad, a locomotive. Only I know now that it
was more than that with Ringo, though neither of us was to see the
proof of my belief for some time yet and we were not to recognise it
as such even then. It was as if Ringo felt it too and that the railroad,
the rushing locomotive which he hoped to see symbolised it – the
motion, the impulse to move which had already seethed to a head
among his people, darker than themselves, reasonless, following
and seeking a delusion, a dream, a bright shape which they could
not know since there was nothing in their heritage, nothing in the
memory even of the old men to tell the others, ‘This is what we will
find’; he nor they could not have known what it was yet it was there –
one of those impulses inexplicable yet invincible which appear among
races of people at intervals and drive them to pick up and leave all
security and familiarity of earth and home and start out, they don’t
know where, empty handed, blind to everything but a hope and a doom.”
Yes, admittedly, I’ve not read a lot of him but, already, the one characterization that I cannot stand is that Faulkner has been forever catalogued as a “southern” novelist. Another of my favorite authors is Richard Price who writes about crime and murder in NYC…this certainly isn’t to suggest that Price is a novelist in Faulkner’s class but the characterizations are pertinent. Price is considered a “crime/thriller” writer, not a “NYC writer” or “Northern writer” so it really bugs me that virtually all Faulkner descriptions start out with him having “the Great Southern Writer” sobriquet tagged to him. I know, I know…Grisham gets the same treatment and Graham Greene is considered a great “English novelist” but these appellations only hide what they really are, and in the case of Faulkner he is in extremis, and that is great literary novelists. I’m certainly looking forward to discovering more of the Faulkner genius as I move through his works.