Good. Night. What a rollercoaster I’ve been on! I’ve read Faulkner before (“A Rose for Emily” in high school and As I Lay Dying in college), but no one warned me that The Sound and the Fury would take up all my mental energy. I actually had to go find some study aids (a practice I strongly condemn to my students, who often just read the aids and skip the novel) to help me figure out what I’ve just read. And by study aids, I actually mean Wikipedia. My shame and confusion are high right now.
Let’s get to it: The Compson family is a mess. We know this, because the novel’s four parts give us slightly different perspectives on a similar set of events (not unlike the new season of Arrested Development). Part 1, taking place on April 7, 1928, gives us the inner workings of Benjamin Compson or Benjy, a cognitively-challenged man of 33 and the youngest sibling. Benjy’s experience is at once highly internal and highly visceral. He knows intrinsically what is happening around him, yet he cannot interact with the world as a stable adult. Benjy’s perspective is confusing, because he can remember an incident with his beloved sister Caddy when they were children or trying to elude his caretaker as an adult. It was very confusing.
Part II takes place on June 2, 1910, following Quentin, the oldest Compson child. Quentin is obsessed with Caddy’s sexual proclivities. And by obsessed, I mean Jaime Lannister obsessed. So. Creepy. Quentin is also deeply troubled and very gifted, so he’s been sent to Harvard to study. But he fritters away his time obsessed with Caddy, who’s gotten herself pregnant by someone.
Then we have Part III, taking place on April 6, 1928. Some major changes have occurred for the Compsons, which we see filtered through the third child, Jason, a truly despicable human. Jason is obsessed with Caddy’s daughter’s sexual proclivities. But it’s not the fun “I’m in love with my sister” that we see at play in Quentin. Rather, it feels a lot more like Black Snake Moan. Jason tries to beat his niece up and lock her in her room. He follows her in town when she’s with a boy. And he steals the money Caddy sends for her expenses. Did I mention this daughter is named Quentin?
Part IV takes place on April 8, 1928, and we thankfully get to hear no more stream-of-conscious from any of the family members. Rather, a third-person omniscient narrator tells us about these events, which starts to bring the book together. Dilsey, the faithful and elderly African-American servant, tries to hold the family together and prays for Benjy at church. Young Miss Quentin runs off with a guy in the circus and Jason unsuccessfully tries to follow them. Benjy gets upset when his caretaker Luster drives the wrong way around a monument.
I realize this all sounds crazy, and it kind of is. If someone were to ask me would I teach it, I probably would, but I’m not sure in what context or how to go about it. It’s a daunting read. I was not prepared for the kind of mental fortitude it would take, nor for the garbled stream-of-consciousness that would make up most of the narrative. I think Faulkner is a genius. I don’t hate stream-of-consciousness (in fact, Virginia Woolf is one of my favorite writers). I just have Feelings about this reading experience, and I don’t know how to make the words come out.
You can also read this review on my personal blog, The Universe Disturbed.