A landmark in American fiction, "Light in August" explores Faulkner's central theme: the nature of evil. Joe Christmas - a man doomed, deracinated and alone - wanders the Deep South in search of an identity, and a place in society. After killing his perverted God-fearing lover, it becomes inevitable that he is pursued by a lynch-hungry mob. Yet ...
A landmark in American fiction, "Light in August" explores Faulkner's central theme: the nature of evil. Joe Christmas - a man doomed, deracinated and alone - wanders the Deep South in search of an identity, and a place in society. After killing his perverted God-fearing lover, it becomes inevitable that he is pursued by a lynch-hungry mob. Yet after the sacrifice, there is new life, a determined ray of light in Faulkner's complex and tragic world.
481 pages. Hardcover with dustjacket. Brand new book. FICTION. Begins as a young pregnant woman, Lena Grove, enters the town of Jefferson, to which she has traced her vanished lover, Lucas Burch. Her arrival coincides with an outburst of violent activity enveloping Jefferson: an old mansion burns down, and the woman inside is found murdered. The dead woman's lover, Joe Christmas, a black man passing for white, and a close associate of Lucas Burch, is held responsible. Faulkner recounts the tragic life of Joe Christmas, and the horrifying consequences of his escape from, and recapture by, the townspeople of Jefferson. (Key Words: Fiction, Novels, William Faulkner, Mississippi, American South, Blacks, Nobel Prize Winners).
This reader believes William Faulkner to be the greatest American novelist of the twentieth century. But Light in August, one of his canonical novels published in 1932, isn't one of my favorites. The early section is entirely dialogue-driven, the later exposition. Faulkner experiments with time structure and flashbacks, which in this case I found merely annoying. Cleanth Brooks claims it is one of his most briliant books, but the Southern author's use of punctuation and portmanteau (or compound) words here is often inconsistent.
The stories of Joe Christmas and Lena Grove are meant to parallel one another; both are outsiders, both are on a journey, and other major characters like Hightower, the defrocked priest, are marginalized figures in Jefferson as well. The novel clearly has a sort of thematic unity.
But what hasn't aged well since the Thirties is Faulkner's antique notions of race in the person of Joe Christmas, an obvious Christ-figure who is alternately driven by the impulses of his black or white blood (as though one can assign so easily behavioral motives and compulsions based on race and blood-lines), and I believe such racial essentialism is a serious limitation in this novel.
Brooks claims Joe Christmas isn't a racialized character--he shows hostility toward both communities after all--but clearly he is someone for whom racial identity or identities is problematic. The critic also asserts that the novel has a "happy ending" with Lena accompanied by Byron Bunch and her newborn on a journey of renewal (Christmas again?), but to me the closing feels appended and weakens or detracts from Christmas's story.
Indeed, the ending provide a kind of symmetry, since the novel opens with Lena on the road, and her story suggests the bonds of community versus their severances embodied by Christmas. And to Faulkner's credit, the awful castration scene was daring for its period; like Flannery O'Connor's stories, the novel's air of racial and religious hysteria does suggest the region's Bible Belt madness in symbolic terms. Faulkner must not have won any affection among his neighbors in Oxford, Mississippi with such representations.
Still, I was less taken by Faulkner's high rhetorical style in Light in August and prefer the novelist's excursions into history, memory, and blood-guilt when those themes are joined to familial lineage as they are in Absalom, Absalom! and The Sound and the Fury.
Publishers Weekly, 2011-09-26 Narrator Will Patton delivers a compelling performance in this audio version of Faulkner's classic novel of tangled racial and sexual relations in the American South that traces the stories of pregnant Lena Grove, searching for the father of her unborn child; a bootlegger named Joe Christmas; and the Rev. Gail Hightower. Capturing the spirit of the text, Patton's narration is expertly paced, rich, and hypnotic. He ably handles the tricky cadence of Faulkner's prose-and the racial slurs that riddle the story-narrating with a honeyed drawl that is undercut by brutal frankness. There are a few moments when Patton overacts and fails to allow the author's words to take center stage. However, Faulkner fans will likely overlook what amounts to a minor flaw in this otherwise enjoyable listen. A Random House /Vintage International paperback. (Aug.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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