Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Reivers

Well, if one is going to return to one's literary supplement blog after far too long away, The Reivers is certainly a good choice with which to do it.

Y'all, Faulkner is one of those writers that we've all heard of and many have even dabbled in (by literature teacher force) or come to have ideas about. But how many among ye have actually read a bunch of his stuff? Lots of people get turned off early, like in high school. I did, but not by slogging through As I Lay Dying or The Sound and the Fury -- no, I was horrified by the experience I had reading a mere (as if anything is "mere" with Faulkner) short story, "Barn Burning." I hated it. I hated it in an intense, passionate, irrational way. I can't really remember now, decades later, why I hated it so, so, so very much, but I loathed it. I'm pretty sure I hated the characters and I know I hated the outcome. So I did what any self-respecting, literature-loving 16-year-old would do: I took a stapler, sat down with my AP English textbook, and stapled shut the pages containing that story, starting with the page before and ending with the page after, a series of staples advancing like a row of ants around the edges of the pages, so as to prevent myself from ever  accidentally letting the book fall open to that horrid story and making me see it ever again.

I then spent my next several years -- in which I was, mind you, an English major with an emphasis in American literature-- complaining about Faulkner and telling anyone who would listen how much I hated his writing (and occasionally throwing in the "Barn Burning" stapling story for good measure). Of course, I had also read "A Rose For Emily" in high school and didn't hate it nearly as much, but I conveniently overlooked that.

Fast forward a decade or so from high school, and by my mid-to-late 20s I had become obsessed with the Pulitzer prizes and decided to embark on my project of reading all the Pulitzer-winning fiction. This came with a realization that I would be reading not one but two novels by Faulkner, although I didn't do those right away, of course. (In fact, I'm still in the midst of that project, because I mix projects together and read other stuff in between, instead of just blazing through one project at a time, which is very not-Charles-Emerson-Winchester-the-III-like of me.)  Not to mention Faulkner's appearances on other lists of greats with which I concern myself, such as the Modern Library's Top 100 and the 1,001 Books to Read Before You Die. But before I got to any of that, during the summer of 2014, a summer in which Brian and I had many a day at his family's Lake Michigan vacation home (that I am Southwesternly unable to refer to as a "c*ttage" as they all do), I spent some time reading The Best American Short Stories of the Century. Yes, all of them. One of them was by Faulkner.  "That Evening Sun Go Down" (published in slightly different form sometimes as "That Evening Sun") was a good story. A really good, well-written story. And there I was, a thirtysomething, forced to sit on a porch one summer, in the midst of being back from Asia and kind of sort of settling down in the U.S. again, in a day-of-Americana-reckoning, realizing that my high school self really might have not had that good of a reason to hate "Barn Burning," ya know? Not that I can particularly remember that much about it...

Well, now here we are, with me having finally rectified this major gap in my literary life, having finally got around to reading a full Faulkner novel, and it is The Reivers. Yes, this is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by our boy William Faulkner. His other Pulitzer winner? A Fable. What't that you say? You've never heard of these novels of his? You figured he must have won the Pulitzer for As I Lay Dying, or The Sound and the Fury? Or at least Absalom, Absalom!  Fun fact: No novels with exclamation points in the title have won the Pulitzer, although Swamplandia!  was a finalist for the year 2012, when no award was given. Well, Faulkner may have won the Nobel Prize after writing those famous novels (those of you who've been with me a while will undoubtedly recall that you don't win the Nobel for a book; you win it for a body of work), but his Pulitzers came later, for A Fable and then for his last book, The Reivers.

And yes, I had to look up what on Earth a "reiver" is. Turns out it's an old word for "robber" used in the Scottish borderlands -- at least that's what I read -- and brought to the U.S. by people from there. An interesting choice of Faulkner's definitely, for the title.

I hate describing/spoilering plots, but the "robbery" in this book is more of a free-wheeling escapist weekend journey that ends up being a coming of age experience. It's definitely not about, like, career burglars or street thugs, but rather people who get swept up in an opportunity and plunge themselves into a feverish few days of learning and growing, from mistakes and other things that come along.

What this book does incredibly well is take you into long, winding sentences without letting you get so lost that you can't find your way out of the paragraph; it also gives the reader a vivid sense of place and the characters inhabiting the places rendered.

What it did for me, more importantly, is get me fired up to read more Faulkner novels. He has a beautiful command of sentence structure (long and involved though that structure may be), life journeys, introspection disguised as regular-ol'-folks-livin'-life, and the striking interpersonal turmoil of life. He makes you want to crawl inside the book and hang out with these people, even though no part of you would rationally want to, say, have Everbe's job, or Boon's...or necessarily live in rural early twentieth century Mississippi...

What I also loved about The Reivers: his social commentary, particularly about the way cars and the automobile society we've embraced have erased some very real things. Nature, for one thing, in the form of wild, untouched spaces; those are basically gone. Also, some part of our human selves has been forever altered. The car/train/horse/walking layers of symbolism that pile upon themselves in this story could take years of literary analysis to fully sort out.

One thing I must point out, though: I've seen multiple reviews/commentaries where people describe the book as "funny" or "one of his funniest novels" or "a comic masterpiece," Um, hello? Do these people also work for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association slating Golden Globe nominees into categories? To me, The Reivers was anything but a comedy. It was a coming-of-age tale and a slice of life. Sure, there was wit -- there were clever and sly bits slipped in all sorts of places in this book. It was real and endearing. A "comic masterpiece" though? Did we get what Faulkner was showing here at all?

If you've read The Reivers, what do you think -- comic masterpiece or no?

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Two thousand sixteen
or, The Triumphant Return of My Literary Supplement Blogging

Yes, it has been a while. I had blogging issues in 2015 (laptop issues, really), but it's a new year, fresh start, etc. I won't bother doing too much detail in a '15 recap; let's just quickly mention that the year basically included continuing to trudge through my many simultaneous reading projects.

The best books I read in 2015 were Room by Emma Donoghue, Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne, A Room With a View by my boy E.M. Forsterand Letter Perfect: The Marvelous History of Our Alphabet From A to Z by David SacksSome other interesting finds, well worth checking out, were Les chercheurs d'os by Tahar Djaout, The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry (which essentially restored my faith in contemporary literature and made me believe there are actually good writers writing out there), Good Behaviour by Molly Keane (thanks, book group!), and Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum. Overrated, or maybe just overfussed about: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil by Hannah Arendt (apparently some people think she's dismissing or defending the perpetrators of the Holocaust? Hello? Did they actually read the book?), One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (which I really need to read in Spanish, which is why I was reading/suffering through it in English, to prepare for this necessary Spanish reading that I'm going to get aroudn to any minute now), and Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler, which I was really prepared to enjoy more than I did, it being her Pulitzer-winner and all, and me having really loved the other book of hers I'd read. I didn't really hate hate hate any book I read in 2015, unless you count Wild, which I mostly came to hate after I read it, when I actually thought about it. The process of reading the book was enjoyable enough, but the author, Cheryl Strayed, is more than a little full of shite and not that great of a writer, and one starts to realize this when one applies a little thing called critical thinking to Wild, but if that sounds too hard, and you prefer to be entertained laugh-out-loud style, go read the entirety of this anti-Wild blog.

So anyway. Now we're in 2016. Wheeeeee!  Here we go.

Yes, my projects continue, but I can definitely see the light at the end of their tunnels! In my Prez Bios project (wherein, you'll recall, I set out to read a bio of every president in order to see where we went wrong, a goal clearly conceived during the Dubya administration), I've recently finished --and reconsidered--Nixon and am now at Ford. Totally in the home stretch of this project: I've reached my lifetime! In my A-to-Z championship, I have one more finalist to read and then will select my final winner (which I wasn't even planning on doing when I first read the 26 novels, one author's last name for each letter of the alphabet, but that project evolved after I finished what became the first round). When that wraps up, I'm going to embark on a reverse-gender A to Z, because I realized that I read far more men than women in my A to Z selections, so I've decided to remedy that.  As for prize-winning Pulitzer and Newbery novels, I've read a few each year and continue to plug away.

Speaking of that, I've just finished William Faulkner's The Reivers.  The Faulkernization of my adult life continues, as well it should. More on that in my next post.