William Faulkner
Random House Modern Library

Quentin Compson and Shreve, his Harvard roommate, are obsessed by the tragic rise and fall of Thomas Sutpen.

As a poor white boy, Sutpen was turned away from a plantation owner's mansion by a negro butler. From then on, he was determined to force his way into the upper echelons of Southern society. His relentless will ensured his ambitions were soon realised; land, marriage, children, his own troop to fight in the Civil War...but Sutpen returns from the conflict to find his estate in ruins and his family collapsing. Secrets from own past threaten to ruin the lives of his children and destroy everything he has worked for.

Reading this book was like sitting on a train in an unfamiliar city, watching the scenery go by at breakneck speed. Occasionally your eyes light on something and you can make out a post office or a lady with a stroller or a cop on a motorcycle. But mostly you just get a feel for the town. For most of the book I felt like I was getting a feel of Mississippi but couldn't grasp a single character or a thread of a plot. The book spans more than 70 years, always looking back or forward to the Civil War. I think the South should measure time in B.C.W. and A.C.W. 

It comes together, though. All the generations and plot threads come together as two 20-year-old Harvard students stay awake through a freezing night to come to terms with the story of Thomas Sutpen and his doomed land and children. Thomas Sutpen is an amazing character. I found myself thinking about him at odd moments. Are there really men like him? Are there men who would force their exhausted, starving, and defeated regiments to haul two marble tombstones through hundreds of miles of mud and cold so that he would have a proper memorial after his eventual death. Are there really men who would prefer incest over interracial marriage? The two obsessed college students call him "the demon," but really he's a product of the South's B.C.W. caste system.

Faulkner's writing is difficult, but he scratches the very essence of human life. It's raw and long-winded. It's really hard to read in fits and spurts because a single sentence lasts two-thirds of a page, and a paragraph can last three pages. There are very few good stopping points. So I wouldn't recommend reading it while you're cooking dinner or supervising children.


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