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THE SOUND AND THE FURY

The Sound and the Fury - William Faulkner How is this not one of the most reviewed, most discussed, most beloved books in all of GoodReads? It’s got a list of killer ingredients, that should make it a slam-dunk GR darling:BROTHER/SISTER INCEST? (did they or didn‘t they?) !!!! BROTHER/SISTER LOVERS’ SUICIDE PACT!!! (kind of)THE OTHER BROTHER IS A SOCIOPATH!!! …and THE THIRD BROTHER GETS CASTRATED!?!!1!?!throw in a cynical alcoholic father, a self-absorbed hypochondriac mother, and some good ole’ boy Southern ambiance, and I must ask: What are you waiting for? Go get it!! This could make a great movie: it’s one part Gone With the Wind, two parts Cruel Intentions, and three parts Blue Velvet. Why hasn’t anybody done that yet? I should stop writing right now, and that should be all the review you need. But… if you’re into the whole plot/character/images scene, this really is a good book, so I suppose it deserves a more respectable review. But just one more thing before I get all serious: Okay, okay, let’s all settle down. Has anybody here seen Rashomon? That’s a 1950’s Japanese movie directed by Akira Kirosawa, In it, four different witnesses give an account of a robbery/kidnapping/rape, and none of their stories agree. The movie plays out each version, but they all lead to the exact same closing scene, so you never really know which account is true (if any). It’s a great film for exploring the storytelling possibilities of unreliable narrators. Please, please see it. It’s one of my favorite movies of all-time, and you will love it too. That is 100% guaranteed. William Faulkner does something similar with the narrators in The Sound and the Fury (TSAF). The book is divided into four parts, each retelling the sordid history of the Compton family in Jackson, MS, from 1898-1928. The narrators don’t outright disagree, but each person brings a very different perspective, which informs the reader’s overall impression of what actually happened. The order of narrators is as follows:BenjiA little bit of exposition at the beginning of the book explains that Benji is the youngest of the Compton kids. It doesn’t take more than a few sentences into his monologue to figure out that something ain’t quite right with him. The proffered explanation is that he is an “idiot manchild”, which, strictly speaking, is not an approved DSM-IV diagnosis, but that’s fiction for you. Interesting aside: Benji was originally christened with the name Maury, after his uncle, but after his brain disorder became apparent, Mrs. Compton has him re-christened as Benji. That's the Compton parents for you: more concerned with honoring the family's past glory than accepting their kids. So, anyhow... I’m not sure what exactly is wrong with Benji’s brain, but he skips around in time a lot as he‘s speaking, without clueing us in on the shifts. One minute he’s telling you about how he went swimming with his older brother Quentin the day his grandmother died (1898). Then, as if it happened the same day, he’s telling you how he put on his clothes to get ready for his sister Caddie’s (short for Candice) wedding, and you’re like "What? The sister got married at age 5, on the same day her grandmother died?" but no, that happened twelve years later. Honestly, Benji doesn’t know what the hell is going on. All he can do is describe the comings and goings of characters around him, and retell fragments of conversations he overheard. Since he has no idea how to appropriately weight the importance of different events, he wastes a lot of time talking about what the fresh laundry smelled like, and then throws in "...oh yeah, and my parents had a big fight about Caddie laying with a boy. Now let me tell you about this bee I saw." - and you’re like "Forget about that! Go back to the part about your sister laying with the guy!" But no luck. He’s onto the bee, and he ain’t coming back. Trying to reconstruct a coherent family history from Benji strikes me as akin to having George W. Bush instruct me over the telephone in the assembly of a highly complex piece of machinery, which has some pieces missing, and whose function is unknown. What the reader can gather from Benji, is that he sees Caddie as a surrogate mother, since his own mother is perpetually bedridden. He doesn’t know it, but Mom Compton doesn‘t care much for him, or any of her kids, except psychopath son Jason Compton IV. For her part, Caddie takes to the Mother role, and dotes on Ben. That’s about all I got from Benji. It’s pretty clear this part of the story was intended to be confusing. To further confound the reader, Faulkner neglects to adequately punctuate what Benji tells us, presumably because he is unaware how the words he hears are intended, so the reader must be too. One incident I found particularly confusing in this section happened when Ben was eleven or twelve… he chased some girl down the road as she was walking to school. Everybody freaked out about it, which seems like an exaggerated response. I can see why everybody might be nervous about the mentally handicapped teenager running after little kids he doesn’t know, but the reaction is still a bit overblown. Following that incident, something happened we aren't immediately privy to, but after that Benji can’t bear to see himself in a mirror anymore. It takes a bit of clarification from subsequent chapters to fill in the knowledge gap, but Holy Shit when it hits you: the family thought he wanted to molest the girl (which he totally didn’t) SO THEY CASTRATED HIM! I‘m sure that sort of thing was more normal eighty years ago, but still… The take-away message from that little incident should be dawning on you at this point: that the Compton family is profoundly fucked up, and if you keep reading, it gets much worse.I was glad when I finished this part. Benji must weed out a lot of readers who would otherwise enjoy TSAF. He’s like the giant idiot manchild bouncer to Faulkner’s hip new nightclub. Next comes:QuentinQuentin is, I think, the oldest Compton child. He is bright and observant, so obviously more articulate than Benji. Unfortunately, his state of mind is questionable, because his narration all takes place on the final day of his life, right before he commits suicide. He’s overwhelmed by emotions that take a little time for the reader bring into focus. He speaks to us from 1911, when, at 18, he is finishing his freshman year at Harvard. His flashbacks to childhood start off innocently enough, with stories about the sweet smell of honeysuckle, running through the woods with his friends, and skipping rocks on the river near his home. He makes frequent references to Caddie, and it’s clear he’s close to her. They are united in common cause against their cruel younger brother Jason. So Quentin loves his sister. That’s sweet. But as the narration goes on, there’s just a little too much detail about what her body looks like, and how beautiful she is. At first I was thinking to myself "Am I overreacting, or is this getting creepy?" From Quentin’s description, I’m picturing Kimberly Davis in the role of Caddie. And granted, that’s pretty smokin’ hot, but I’m guessing if Kimberly Davis has a brother, he probably doesn’t want to fuck her. Quentin, on the other hand, does want to fuck Caddie. Once she hits puberty, his childhood love for her morphs into incestuous desire. He becomes jealous of her boyfriends, which is a bad situation to be in, because there‘s a bunch of ‘em, and she‘s having sex with every one. I’d say she’s promiscuous by 2011 standards, so in 1929 she would have to be completely off the slutometer. Now consider Quentin’s obsessive feelings of inferiority over his virginity. He’s pissed off at Caddie, because he’s been “left behind”, so to speak, and he wants Caddie to "fix it"! Messed up, right? Now get this: Caddie knows what he wants, and she’s game! Talk about kids with poor boundaries! All this point, one has to wonder what all this sexual acting out is about. Is it Caddie's desperate bid to get the attention of her unengaged and uninterested parents? That may be understandable on some level, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to be a rebellious teen:Like This: “Mom and Dad don’t love me? I’m going to get into minor trouble with authorities, to embarrass them and make them pay attention to me!”Not Like This: “Mom and Dad don’t love me? I’ll show them! I’ll have sexual intercourse with my brother!” Wasn’t there a Brady Bunch episode like that?I could be remembering it wrong. Aaaanyhow… Teens. What’re you gonna do with ‘em? Before you get too excited about all this juicy dysfunction, I’ve got to let you down lightly for a little bit of disappointment. This book was written in 1929, so it tiptoes around incest and sex in general. Those subjects are delt with in a very shadowy and implied manner. In fact, it’s not 100% certain whether Quentin and Caddy did the deed or not, but there’s dialogue and, er… brother/sister situations that transcend the description “awkward”. I’ll leave a little bit of mystery here, but this book must have blown people’s minds when it first came out! Oh, I almost forgot about the brother/sister lovers’ suicide pact! When Quentin is going out of his mind with jealousy, he suggests this. Sounds reasonable, right? Caddie thinks so; she’s like “I’m in! Mom and Pop will totally flip!” (again, “How not to do teen rebeliousness“) She guides Quentin’s knife-brandishing hand to her jugular. Do it! I’m begging you! But he can’t, because he loves her too much. Later, he drowns himself when Caddie gets pregnant by one guy and engaged to another. Heartbroken, Caddie names the unborn child Quentin (Awwwwwww), which becomes awkward when Quentin Jr turns out to be a girl. As you might imagine, having two main characters named Quentin - one male, one female- plays havoc with Benji’s narration. JasonThe craziness continues. Fast forward to April 1928. Jason Compton IV is Caddie’s younger brother, and a total dick. He hates everybody, but most of all his niece Quentin (now seventeen), whose care he’s been entrusted with after Caddie divorced and was run out of town. He only tolerates Quentin to get his hands on the support money Caddie sends. Quentin’s not dumb, though. She knows what’s going on, so she finds out where Jason hides his cash. Then, one night, she takes off with it all. That’s all the important information you need to know from Jason. Everything else in this chapter is his general douchebaggery and money-love. He’s defrauding his mother, he was behind Benji’s castration, and he’s arranged to have Benji committed to an insane asylum as soon as his morther dies. Jason’s constant bile gets old even faster than Benji’s nonsense.Dilsey GibsonTechnically, the final part isn’t narrated by Dilsey. The narrator is omniscient, but focuses on Dilsey- the old servant who has been with the Comptons for at least thirty years. Infinite Jest fans will know what I mean when I say that Dilsey is the Mario Incandenza of TSAF. She’s sweet, and benevolent, and can’t understand why so much grief has befallen this family. While Jason is chasing Quentin around in a murderous rage, Dilsey takes Benji to church, and cries at the wickeness of the world. She’s a good character to end with, because she wonders the same thing a reader is likely to wonder. What was all this for? (hint: “…signifying nothing.“) What was this book about? Passions ruining people, for sure. Dissolution, and a fall from greatness- for the Compton family, and for the Old South in general, I suppose. Dilsey mourns Caddie as a tragic figure- an energetic girl who, deprived of proper nurturing parents, becomes a “fallen women”. She is the key character for a lot of the book’s themes: love, loyalty, hope, forgiveness- but she will always be shrouded in mystery, because we never actually hear her side of things. That’s a bit of genius on Faulkner’s part, because the real fun of this book is wondering why Caddie made some of the choices she did, what she really thought about her family (especially her brother Quentin), and what she did all those years between 1911 and 1929. The other big question is why the Compton family fell from greatness so far, so fast. The family’s high water mark was just after the Civil War. By 1898, they were beginning their final, tragic generation. Sure, Jason Compton III and Caroline Bascombe Compton were responsible for messing up their kids so badly… but why? Why did Jason III become a raging alcoholic, and why did Caroline become a neurotic hypochondriac? This book will leave you asking those questions, and caring about the answers, which is one of the hallmarks of a five-star read.