Saturday, September 21, 2013

AS I LAY DYING - The Movie

It took me about about eight years to get into William Faulkner. 
That's unusual for a native Mississippian, especially considering that I'll read the label on the salt shaker during breakfast if nothing else is available. 
The first thing I picked up was "The Sound And The Fury", sometime during college.  I got lost in the first chapter. 
Then I tried "Absalom, Absalom".  I was totally defeated.  No idea what was going on. 

Five or six years later, I had the good fortune to manage a Taylors Books location that also employed Charles Lester and Joseph Holt.  They weren't Faulkner scholars, but they set me on the correct path.  Just as you don't learn to read English by dipping your toes into Chaucer, Shakespeare, and James Joyce, you don't learn to appreciate William Faulkner by diving into "Light In August".

Once Charles and Joe got me into the proper order of things, I spent two years of my life reading the stories, novels, screenplays, letters and non-fiction essays of William Faulkner.  In order.  I used Joseph Blottner's two-volume biography as my guide.  Whenever Faulkner wrote something in the biographical account, I hit "pause" on the biography and read the work in question.  It took me two years to complete that project, and another two years to learn to speak English again.  Time well spent. 

Here's how you can understand Oxford, Mississippi's 3rd most famous export.  (Archie Manning and John Grisham are #1 and #2.) 

Read "A Rose For Emily".  It's a Southern Gothic horror story.  Great stuff, and an easy read. 

Then try "Red Leaves".  It was originally published in the Saturday Evening Post, and therefore you should be able to get through it in one sitting.  An Indian Chieftain has died, and tradition dictates that all his possessions (including his black slave) be buried with him.  The slave doesn't want to be part of the tradition, for obvious reason, and escapes.  No one has any heart for the process, or the chase, and this includes the chief's son.  Faulknerian decay before Faulknerian decay was cool. 

This will get you to "Spotted Horses".  Flem Snopes (who could've been the inspiration for Jeff Foxworthy's "You Might Be A Redneck" schtick) and Ratliff the dry-goods salesman both make an appearance at a horse auction gone bad. 

"Barn Burning" is about another Snopes, a tenant farmer/sharecropper who moves from plantation to plantation threatening to burn the barns of his landlords.  (A quick word about the Snopes family - Faulkner and novelist Sherwood Anderson dreamed up the Snopeses in Jackson Square, New Orleans.  They are a stench in the nostrils of everything the Old South stood for.  The Snopeses are too cheap to buy train tickets for their children.  They put luggage tags around their necks and ship them as freight.  Memorable names in the Snopes clan are: Admiral Dewey, Wallstreet Panic, and Montgomery Ward.) 

Ok, that should get you ready for your first Faulkner novel.  I think you ought to start with "The Hamlet".  It's the first volume in the "Snopes" trilogy.  If you've read this website with any regularity since 2007, you'll love "The Hamlet".  White Trash comes to town and threatens the established order of things.  The horse auction from "Spotted Horses" is told from another point of view.  Ike Snopes keeps things Moooooo-ving.  Heh.....

If you've made it this far, try "Sanctuary".  Faulkner needed some money and decided to write a potboiler, and Lord have mercy, he got this pot to boiling.  An Ole Miss sorority girl gets raped by an impotent dude named Popeye.  Popeye uses a corncob.  A condemned felon's hair needs straightening on the gallows. The hangman fixes it for him by springing the trap.  Everyone is drunk all the time.  This is the novel that made Faulkner's literary reputation. 

Then, and only then, should you make a stab at "As I Lay Dying".  Faulkner claimed that he wrote this masterpiece while working nights at the Ole Miss Power Plant, writing on an overturned wheelbarrow.  There are 15 different 1st-person narrators in the fifty-something chapters of the book.  Some of them are stark, raving mad. I know that 2 of my 3 siblings read this book and loved it, loved it, loved it.  Addie Bundren is dying.  Her husband, Anse, has agreed to haul her corpse to her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi, for burial.  In reality, he just wants to purchase some false teeth there.  The oldest son, Cash, is busying himself building a coffin outside Addie's window.  He wants to go to Jefferson to buy a phonograph.  Dewey Dell, Addie's only daughter, wants to go to Jefferson for an abortion.  Vardaman, the youngest son, just might be mentally retarded, but he gets to narrate as much of the novel as anyone else. 
When Addie dies, the Bundrens have to take Addie through fire and water (with buzzards circling overhead) to get Addie to her final resting place.  Larry McMurtry cheerfully ripped off the last 10% of this novel for the finale of "Lonesome Dove", when Call has to get Gus's reamains through fire and water for burial. 

The actor James Franco has made a movie of "As I Lay Dying".  The early reviews from the Cannes Film Festival are good.  I've long dreamed of someone bringing this book to the big screen, just to see if it could be done.  From the look and tone of the preview, it looks like Franco just might have done it.  I don't see any listings of the film coming to Dallas, but when it does, I'm going to be there. 


1 comment:

Joe said...

Sound and Fury was my first and last stab at Faulkner. I appreciated it, but didn't really enjoy it (I feel the same way about James Joyce). About the same time I picked up a used copy of Wolfe's 'Look Homeward, Angel' and was hooked - I've probably read it 25 times.