If you’ve seen the 1958 film The Long Hot Summer with Paul Newman you may think you have an idea about this story. The opening titles (if memory serves) mention that it’s based on Faulkner’s The Hamlet. But if you know anything about adaptations you know there’s usually a lot to cut out and change in order to make it a suitable story for screen.
I’m not meaning this as a dig at The Long Hot Summer; I’m merely saying that it’s nothing like the material upon which it’s based. Faulkner’s book is a small epic telling how an entire clan of no-good Snopes moves into a town and disrupts the social order. Over the course of the book you see family dynamics shaken, horse trading swindles, rises to power, falls from power, fake confederate coins used to sell a house, a very fine sewing machine salesman and double crosses involving murder and, well, more horse trading. It doesn’t all fit into a movie, and if it did, it wouldn’t make sense.
I imagine it would make a great mini-series though. I could see it running on Masterpiece Theater, but somehow Dickens, the Brontë Sisters and Jane Austin seem to have a lock on the classic literature made into television miniseries market.
I’m not sure why the English tales get all the PBS love. Faulkner’s stories have just as many torrid family histories and secrets-that-are-best-kept-secret, powerful men fearing a fall from stature, and all the satire of social order you could want. Plus, in a Faulkner story you may get the occasional sickly horse that’s blown up with a tire pump in order to be made to appear plump. You don’t get that with Brontë sisters.
It also should be noted that The Hamlet is the first of the Snopes Trilogy. A trilogy that would be completed with The Town and the The Mansion. I read them all years ago and remembered them as being a slog. I remembered wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed The Hamlet. It’s funny, it’s sad, it tells a meaningful and interesting story. It shines a little proverbial light on a past era and struggles with class.
The Snopes clan is painted generally as villains, although I root for them. They’re the outcasts of the South. They’re the new order, coming in and tearing down the old aristocratic society (even if they are terrible people).
Perhaps as I get into the next books in the trilogy (coming later) the Snopes' story will begin to be a bit of a slog as I remembered it. But for now, it’s good to have good Faulkner back, especially after reading The Unvanquished and The Wild Palms.