When I began this project (reading every Faulkner novel in chronological order) I imagined noting the half-way point. Faulkner wrote twenty novels, and the The Unvanquished would have been the half-way point. But that milestone came and went and it slipped my mind.
It’s just as well. This is the post on The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem], and I do not have much to say about this book, so let me note that we’ve crossed the midway point.
When I began reading these novels, I wasn’t sure what I’d learn. Would it diminish my feelings on Faulkner’s writing to see more clearly the progress of a writer? Would some kind of mystery be revealed that ruined the magic? Or would it show how his writing developed and give me renewed appreciation?
I cannot say that I think of Faulkner’s writing to be any better or worse. It is clear that he improved through his career (at least so far). His writing became freer (I cannot say tighter or more concise), more experimental, yet at the same time, more controlled. The early novels really read like early novels. The writing, although not easier or tighter is more refined. And it has been a pleasure to see the progress.
Faulkner’s writing is notoriously difficult. The sentences are long and complex. He uses fairly obscure words (I admit to consulting a dictionary at times). An oft-quoted line from a Wes Anderson movie comes to mind: He writes in a kind of obsolete vernacular.
And the obsolete vernacular works for the Yoknapatawpha stories. The language does sound kind of obsolete. The dialog does seem to use lots of vernacular. And the obsolete vernacular takes you to a place that seems mythic and historical… in an odd way.
This, I think, is why I find the non-Yoknapatawpha stories so odd. The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem] is not set in Yoknapatawpha County, and the Faulknerian style of writing just seemed terribly tedious in this “real-world” setting.
The book is two stories. Told side by side in alternating chapters. The first (The Wild Palms) involves a couple having an affair and traveling the country together. The woman is pregnant. The second (Old Man) involves a prisoner who is forced to rescue victims of a flood. The prisoner rescues a pregnant woman. Obviously, these two stories are related and become intertwined.
The story is not so different from one that could have taken place in Yoknapatawpha County. So why does it seem so incongruous? I don’t know. Perhaps I only like Yoknapatawpha County. Perhaps the only thing I like about Faulkner is the mythical world he built. Perhaps I’ve been reading too much Faulkner. But, I’m past the half-way point.