Monday, June 04, 2007

I Hate Faulkner

So that's a slight overstatement. I don't completely hate Faulkner. He has some works I like, and I do appreciate his skill and, yes, even his brilliance (hard not to as an English major, when you've read so much of his work). My personal favorite is "A Rose for Emily," one of the best short stories in existence.

But there are moments when I've had to wonder what the heck he was thinking and wish I could slap him upside the head.

Such is the case with The Sound and the Fury. With apologies to Oprah and everyone else who puts that book on one of their top five, such as a good chunk of literary scholars and university people (including English majors—so I hope my own don't disown me), the book sucks.

Here is my never-quiet opinion as to why.

I know some people think Faulkner was downright brilliant with it, as if he was seeing how far out on a limb a writer could go before the branch itself broke off.

But explain to me how it is brilliance to write a book where it's just a literary exercise, where the reader gets no joy in it? That's like saying a ballet is brilliance where the audience sits around and sees the ballerina do nothing but exercises like amazingly deep plies and grand jetes across the stage for an hour. The audience gets bored to tears.

Oh, wow. She's a great dancer. She's got an amazing turnout. But where's the ballet?

The Sound and the Fury, from what I've gathered, wasn't particularly popular in its day. It's much more popular now, when literary critics and scholars like to pick it up and tear it into pieces and say, "Wow! Look what a genius Faulkner was."

Pllllh, says I.

I personally think Faulkner was showing off rather than telling a story in the most powerful way possible, which is plain old bad writing. A writer's first responsiblity is to his reader: How can I tell this most effectively, in the way that will most impact my audience?

I want my reader to feel, to laugh, to cry, to love, to feel angry. Not to wonder what the heck is going on and be constantly pulled from the page, remembering that the writer in the one pulling the strings and that it's really a book, not another world.

Faulkner never once lets you forget that this is a B-O-O-K.

Plus, he was intentionally trying to confuse the crap out of the reader. There was no earthly reason he needed to name that many characters the same name, let alone characters of different genders. There was no reason he needed to jump around back and forth in time so much—especially without alerting the reader of the time transitions so the reader doesn't know when or where he is, and so on. He didn't need to have pages and pages of no punctuation or capital letters. (Call it a stream of consciousness style if you want. I call it annoying.)

Stupid, stupid book. I'm glad I've read it so I can say I read it. After I did, I looked up some commentaries to make sure I did, in fact, understand it—and was rather pleased that, yes, I did grasp what he was trying to do and he didn't pull the wool over my eyes, hallelujah.

(Although as I was reading it a couple of years ago, my son asked what it was about, and I told him I wasn't entirely sure, that it was kind of confusing. And he responded with, "Well, what do you THINK it's about?")

The author part of my brain kept thinking how much more effective some of these scenes could have been if he had just written them straight out normally—because Faulkner, when he wanted to be, really was a great writer.

But I think he got so in love with his own genius and skill that he sometimes also got caught up in doing acrobatics and forgot the power of telling the story and the responsibility he has to his READER.

End of rant. :)

Next time, I'll finally get around to answering a question posed by an anonymous commenter about how I got into article writing.

Until then, happy summer vacation!

Also, I just have to mention that my upcoming book, Spires of Stone, due out in September, is going to press in a few days. YES!


Luisa Perkins said...

I'm totally with you.

It's the same with Joyce. You get some gorgeous writing, as with The Dead, Portrait of the Artist, parts of Ulysses--and then you get Finnegan's Wake. Self-indulgence in the EXTREME.

I hate other very critically acclaimed writers: most of Steinbeck and Hemingway and Updike; all of Roth, Bellow, and Mailer. Voicing my opinion on these demigods has caused me no end of grief, but I stand by it. Good for you for speaking out!

Luisa Perkins said...

PS--Congratulations on Spires of Stone!

Ris said...

Thank you so much for posting this. I'm an English major in the process (God. What a process!) of reading As I Lay Dying. With something like 15 different narrators and a good deal of it in stream of consciousness, I felt like my brain would burst about 80 pages in. But so many of my peers have raved about the book that I was starting to think that I might be in the wrong major. Thank God I found this post. Now I know I'm not alone.

Anonymous said...

I know this article is old, but your entry sure made me feel decent. I have a rabid hatred for Faulkner: he's way overrated, he's the very antithesis in what writing should NOT be, and finally, it seems about 90 percent of his writing is pompous, erudite swill--nevertheless that swill endeared him to scholars and critics of the literati.

I don't care if it did.

You're right. He sucks.

LisAway said...

Oh, I really need to reread The Sound and the Fury. It's been since high school and I have NO IDEA what it was about.

Anonymous said...

"I’ve been perplexed and amused by fabricated notions about so-called “great books.” That, for instance, Mann’s asinine Death in Venice, or Pasternak’s melodramatic, vilely written Doctor Zhivago, or Faulkner’s corncobby chronicles can be considered masterpieces, or at least what journalists term “great books,” is to me the same sort of absurd delusion as when a hypnotized person makes love to a chair."- Vladimir Nabokov :)


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