Review: Light in August


Light in August
Light in August by William Faulkner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This is time I’d like to have back to read something else. As an author and English teacher I felt guilty because I’d never made myself sit through a William Faulkner novel. Sure, I like “A Rose for Emily” and teach it regularly, but every time I’ve tried to read one of his novels I put it down after a couple of chapters. This time I stuck with it to the end.

A few things happen in this book. I’m not sure you can say a story takes place, but a few things do happen. Sadly, they happen to characters it’s almost impossible to care about. You’d think at least Lena, the unwed mother, would be sympathetic, but she’s one of the main characters you never learn much about. She’s always just smiling and staring into space as if she’s a mental patient. Joe Christmas is despicable and Hightower is hardly more likable. Things happen to these people, and others, but it’s hard to really care.

The book itself is about racism and, to lesser degrees, misogyny and how the past is always working in the present, which is why so much is told through flashbacks. The racism theme is hammered home ad nauseum. Yes, it’s hard to fathom that anyone ever held such beliefs about black people, but once Faulkner made it clear that everyone is racist you’d think he’d focus on the story. But no, how about a flashback to show the reader how this characters great grandfather was a racist, too?

Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, and John Steinbeck are sort of the holy trinity of 20th century American authors. Steinbeck is the only one I enjoy reading. I can now say I’ve read a Faulkner novel from beginning to end.

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