This is my third and final book for Maggie's Southern Reading Challenge. Before this, the only other book I've read by Faulkner was As I Lay Dying. That was probably 15 years ago. At the time, I remember not really liking it all that much. It just seemed weird to me. So, I was a little hesitant about reading another Faulkner, but I'm so glad I did. There's so much that I want to say, but I just don't know how to put it into words. The book has so many layers. It deals with some big themes such as religion and racism (which is pretty much a requirement for Southern lit.). But it also deals with isolation, identity, relationships and group mentality.
There are three basic stories that are interconnected, although somewhat loosely. The story of Lena Grove opens and closes the book. She's young, single, and pregnant. She sets out on foot to find the father of her baby who has deserted her. You'd think she'd be depressed or pessimistic about life in her situation, but she's not. She seems to take everything in life as it comes. She's happy in whatever situation she finds herself. But, she's pretty much the only major character in the book that has found any kind of peace at all.
Though there is plenty of misery to go around, for me, the story of Joe Christmas is the saddest. He grows up and lives his entire life without any knowledge of his true identity. The reader finds out as the book progresses that he was taken to an orphanage by his grandfather, who had allowed his only daughter to die in childbirth as punishment for sleeping with someone of a different race. Joe gets his unusual name because he's left at the orphanage on Christmas Eve. He is eventually adopted by a couple, but life doesn't get any better for him. His adopted father beats him on a regular basis. Joe has a problem with relationships with women due to an incident at the orphanage when he was younger. He passes for white for most of his life, but he is ambiguous about his race. He never feels as if he fits in anywhere in the segregated South -- not in white society or black society.
The life of Rev. Gail Hightower is the third story in the book. Gail was born to an older couple and like most everyone else has a less than pleasant childhood. He grows up obsessed by the exploits of his grandfather during the Civil War. He eventually loses his wife and his church because of this strange obsession. He is shunned by the people of Jefferson, and he retreats from life. He looks forward to death as a release from the misery of this life. It's through an encounter with Lena Grove that Hightower decides that maybe he can rejoin life.
That is a very basic synopsis, and I don't want to say much more because I don't want to give too much away. I highly recommend this book especially, if like me, you're one who has tried Faulkner before with less than stellar results. It is not a quick read. It's not the kind of book that you can read while trying to do something else. In fact, I often found myself rereading sentences several times. The writing is complex but absolutely amazing. Though there are three main stories, he weaves them together in such a way that it works beautifully. I love the imagery that Faulkner evokes. He's the type of writer that has that knack of using the exact word necessary to paint a picture for the reader. In fact, he makes up words when nothing else will do -- and it works. I will definitely be reading more Faulkner.