I just finished Faulkner’s Absalom! Absalom! Something in the air drew me to read it again. Faulkner was wrestling with his inheritance—the legacy of the American South.
He writes a fictional story that holds his experience. He lives on the edge of a conquered land. The story is not easy at all—at no point do we hear the voice of the main character. We hear the memories and the inferences of the people who were connected or controlled by him, by Thomas Sutpen, the demon hero of the story.
Sutpen controls the people around him and no one stands against him. They seem to admire what he can do so much they allow all the collateral damage.
He is the embodiment of a pure single-minded vision, and the people around him fall into it and give him what he wants. They are mesmerized, wanting to see what will happen. Will he make his dream come true?
The main narrator—not the only narrator—is Quentin. He’s not related to any of the characters, but his grandfather knew the demon Sutpen.
Quentin is trying to piece together what happened. Everyone from his hometown has their version of the story. No one can leave it alone.
They pull his sleeve, telling him what really happened.
He is stuck trying to make sense of it. What happened? Between all their versions he is not sure of the basic facts.
The others are sure. And he’s heard the stories his whole life so he knows the basic facts.
Until he thinks about it. He is trying to sort it all out with his college roommate. Now that he is not at home where everyone is so sure, he himself is not so sure.
He talks it over and over with his roommate. They piece together what he never saw clearly, what was hidden in plain sight, this dark dark dark story of the American South.
It’s a masterpiece and it is not for the fainthearted.
Here’s the piece that I can break off for you all:
I know there are stories I’ve heard and accepted my whole life. Sometimes, when I look at them now, they aren’t true anymore. They may have been true once. But they don’t have to be true now.
It is worth sifting out the jagged edges to find the things that aren’t true anymore. The assumptions can be discarded. I deserve to have the true truth.