Joe Christmas that is. After reading how the Faulkner character came to be adopted, I was reminded, yet again, that many of my blessings, like my sins, are things of omission.
Book: Light in August by William Faulkner
Method: Reading my long-ago purchased Modern Library hardcover book obtained at one of those glorious Miami-Dade Public Library book sales held yearly by Friends of the Library — alas it came with no dust jacket, or as Larry McMurtry calls them, dust wrappers, something which physically pains me everytime I see it naked on the shelf — and listening to the audiobook read by Will Patton.
I’ve settled on a system in which if the audio book keeps my attention, I’ll switch over to a physical or ebook since audio takes up more than 3 times the time it takes to read. But since I listen to audiobooks while exercising or walking — calling walking exercise strikes me as an embarrassing admission to age, although not as shameful as golf — it will always be an efficient way to consume books.
What I got from the book, so far:
- This was the 1st sentence: “Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, ‘I have come from Alabama: a fur piece.” Already I was annoyed. I worried genius really meant undecipherable. Turns out “fur piece” is Southern for a ‘long way.’
- This book must have been a nightmare to edit or proofread. You can easily imagine Faulkner testily answering corrections to his draft, ‘if I meant to write ‘far place,’ I would have done so …’
- I had never read Faulkner. But, thanks to the Great Books program, I come with high expectations for any classic. That and a great story about how Shelby Foote and Walker Percy met Faulkner. See the CSPAN interview beginning at 2:30.
- Soon I was reminded of why classics come to be considered classics. I had an experience like that before, when I read John Updike on Ted Williams. Here is one sentence early in the Faulkner novel:
But some of the machinery would be left, since new pieces could always be bought on the installment plan–gaunt, staring, motionless wheels rising from mounds of brick rubble and ragged weeds with a quality of profoundly astonishing, and gutted boilers lifting their rusting and unsmoking stacks with an air stubborn, baffled and bemused upon a stumppocked scene of profound and peaceful desolation, unplowed, untilled, gutting slowly into red and chocked ravines beneath the long quiet rains of autumn and the galloping fury of vernal equinox is.
- Later a husband turns his back on his wife and wonders about the pregnant young woman that was looking for the baby’s father that he had tried to help by providing a ride and shelter …
He cannot tell from her voice if she is watching him or not now. He towels himself with a split floursack. “Maybe she will. If it’s running away from her he’s after, I reckon he’s going to find out he made a bad mistake when he stopped before he put the Mississippi River between them.” And now he knows that she is watching him: the gray woman not plump and not thin, manhard, workhard, in a serviceable grey garment worn savage and brusque, her hands on her hips, her face like those of generals who have been defeated in battle.
“You men,” she says.
“What do you want to do about it? Turn her out? Let her sleep in the barn maybe?”
“You men,” she says, “You durn men.”
- Joe Christmas and his adoption …
He stood there, his ears and face red and burning with harsh soap and harsh toweling, in the stiff new overalls, listening to the stranger. He had looked once and saw a thickish man with a close brown beard and hair cut close though not recently. Hair and beard both had a hard, vigorous quality, unsilvered, as though the pigmentation were pervious to the forty and more years which the face revealed. The eyes were lightcolored, cold. He wore a suit of hard, decent black. On his knee rested a black hat held in a blunt clean hand shut, even on the felt of the hat, into a fist….
He spoke a single word, pointing up the lane with the mittened fist which clutched the whip, toward a single light which shown in the dusk. “Home,” he said. The child said nothing. The man looked down at him. The man was bundled against the cold, squat, big, shapeless, somehow rocklike, indomitable, not so much ungentle as ruthless. “I said, there is your home.” Still the child didn’t answer. He had never seen a home so there was nothing for him to say about it. And he was not old enough to talk and say nothing at the same time. “You will find food and shelter and the care of Christian people,” the man said. “And the work within your strength that will keep you out of mischief. For I will have you learn soon that the two abominations are sloth and idle thinking, the two virtues are work and the fear of God.” Still the child said nothing. He had neither ever worked nor feared God. He knew less about God than about work.