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Light in August by William Faulkner

Light in August (1932)

by William Faulkner

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Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
I reread this great classic recently, after having read a lot of Faulkner in college. I found I did not remember it, but had the chance to rediscover the book and admire it all over again. The mysterious Joe Christmas is a potent depiction of the emotional damage caused by the simmering rage of a child, unloved and excluded by all, including his natural mother and grandparents, his orphanage peers, his violent and abusive adoptive father, and his first lover. As an adult he is a fully formed psychopath, preying on a series of women and then becoming violent when he reveals he is part black and they reject him (or not!). His travels, ending in the inevitable violence at the center of the novel, make up the heart of the book. But he is surrounded by many other characters, some more fully developed than others - and all representing the different strands of post-WWI Mississippi, which come together in a second climactic act of violence. A brilliant and comprehensive picture of a sick society's struggle to redefine itself in the wake of war and social upheaval. ( )
  kishields | Nov 23, 2014 |
“…a fellow is more afraid of the trouble he might have than he ever is of the trouble he’s already got. He’ll cling to trouble he’s used to before he’ll risk a change. Yes. A man will talk about how he’d like to escape from living folks. But it’s the dead folks that do him the damage. It’s the dead ones that lay quiet in one place and don’t try to hold him, that he can’t escape from.”

Light in August, set in Faulkner’s oft used Yoknapatawpha County, follows three separate yet connected storylines that focuses on race and violence in the deep South. The novel opens with a pregnant Lena Grove traveling the South on foot to find her baby’s father, a man she knows by the name of Lucas Burch but is actually named Joe Brown. She is led to a man named Byron Bunch who everyone thinks she must mean, since no one they know is named Lucas Burch. He becomes quickly obsessed with Lena, wishes to marry her, and subsequently keeps her from the baby’s father. The second storyline focuses on Joe Christmas, a troubled man who is uncertain about his birth and believes himself to be half-black. He works at a local lumber mill but only in an attempt to disguise his illegal liquor business where he makes most of his money. He becomes partners with a man named Joe Brown. The third and final story to tie everything together is Gail Hightower, a local ex-minister after he became involved in scandal that forever tarnished his name.

‘It is just dawn, daylight: that gray and lonely suspension filled with the peaceful and tentative waking of birds. The air, inbreathed, is like spring water. He breathes deep and slow, feeling with each breath himself diffuse in the neutral grayness, becoming one with loneliness and quiet that has never known fury or despair.’

The novel is richly written, exquisitely descriptive and oftentimes complex as it alternates being multiple individuals and also between their pasts and their present. Each separate story continues on its own path yet they are all skillyfully and slowly intertwining leaving the reader oblivious to the obvious connections until the pieces finally come together at the end. The histories of each person may seem of little consequence but it only seeks to show how ones past is what forms their future, and how it will forever haunt you. Faulkner succeeds in not only bringing to life the small town mentality, but of a Southern small town in the 1920s with all its judgmental prejudices. Light in August is a tragic tale but completely unforgettable due to its ending that won’t go easy on your nerves. This is my first Faulkner and while it certainly wasn’t an easy read, it won’t be my last. ( )
  bonniemarjorie | Sep 3, 2014 |
Face it ... I just don't like Faulkner. This novel, however, was much, much, much better than anything else I've read by him, though, because it had one character that I could empathize with - Bryan Bunch. I cared what happened to him and that's probably the only reason I kept reading. Faulkner's narrative style annoys the piss out of me. The next to last chapter, he's still moving around, going back this time several generations to explain the history of a minor character. At that point, who cares? Certainly not me. Just not for me. ( )
  AliceAnna | Aug 13, 2014 |
Great writing, of course. The only thing that drags it down is the Gail Hightower sections. He is a boring, holier than thou character and easily the weakest part of the book. I readthat Faulkner had initially set out to write a novel about him but ended up focusing on Joe Christmas instead. Thank god he did. Hightower was overly symbolic and whiny---sure, he represented the mixing of races, the white man who accepts blacks, the stain of slavery and confederacy, and the sins of marriage and infidelity, but all of that is portrayed better by other characters.

Still, there are some amazing sections. ( )
1 vote blanderson | Mar 4, 2014 |
The sins of the father, the sins of the mother, the sins of the deep and the golden dark.

I've heard mentions of Light in August being one of Faulkner's most accessible works. Fitting, then, that it be the second of my readings, the first having been The Sound and the Fury. For I thought I found something in the first worth searching for in the rest, but as you and many an English Literature student know, TSatF isn't the place for certainty. Here, I found that Faulkner knew what he was doing.

I cannot throw terms like "Southern Gothic" around, for what do I know of the South or the Gothic? I've lived in the United States and visited a specified architecture and read a certain style of literature, but never have I visited the South. So I will stick to what I recognize, and let the larger shine through.

Race, war, and religion; man, woman, and child. Faulkner knew and loved them much as a deity might, I'd imagine. The Bible is a tract of violent imagery colluding with cries of peace, humanity's brutal instinct and divine idea, and it is no wonder that he drowns so often in its revelations while revealing his own. It takes a certain caliber of author to write with all the living beauty and horrific prejudice in place, the truth if you will for which words are less than useless, and come out with a message of power wrapped around a bleeding heart. Where better for an American author to start than at the origin, no matter how raw and flawed in scope?

A work in full knowledge of its terror. Writing with a conscience that it refuses to hide behind. That is what we have here, bound up in generations of creed and color, as complex a weft as life itself and as inexplicable, except not, for what is literature if not an explanation of the murky depths melded with brightest glow?

I'd speak of characters, but really, what more does one need to know beyond the result of the Civil War, the society of the white supremacist, and the viciousness of Old Testament patriarchy? This book, for one.

I'd speak more of Faulkner, but there is not much else to speak on beyond the reputation he holds in the hallowed halls of namedropping. It's a shame as well as a pleasure, the weight his name carries, for as with every giant of experience there comes in his wake the gift to humanity as well as the pecking order. I will say, though, he will be afforded much more leniency in my future readings than other authors. For it is not so much a matter of personal preference as of recognized importance.

If you wish to know both the US and the broader scope of humanity, here is Faulkner at his most accessible. I can't think of a better place to start.The organ strains come rich and resonant through the summer night, blended, sonorous, with that quality of abjectness and sublimation, as if the freed voices themselves were assuming the shapes and attitudes of crucifixions, ecstatic, solemn, and profound in gathering volume. Yet even then the music has still a quality stern and implacable, deliberate and without passion so much as immolation, pleading, asking, for not love, not life, forbidding it to others, demanding in sonorous tones death as though death were the boon, like all Protestant music. It was as though they who accepted it and raised voices to praise it within praise, having been made what they were by that which the music praised and symbolised, they took revenge upon that which made them so by means of the praise itself. Listening, he seems to hear within it the apotheosis of his own history, his own land, his own environed blood: that people from which he sprang and among whom he lives who can never take either pleasure or catastrophe or escape from either, without brawling over it. Pleasure, ecstasy, they cannot seem to bear: their escape from it is in violence, in drinking and fighting and praying; catastrophe too, the violence identical and apparently inescapable And so why should not their religion drive them to crucifixion of themselves and one another? he thinks. It seems to him that he can hear within the music the declaration and dedication of that which they know that on the morrow they will have to do. It seems to him that the past week has rushed like a torrent and that the week to come, which will begin tomorrow, is the abyss, and that now on the brink of cataract the stream has raised a single blended and sonorous and austere cry, not for justification but as a dying salute before its own plunge, and not to any god but to the doomed man in the barred cell within hearing of them and of two other churches, and in whose crucifixion they too will raise a cross. ‘And they will do it gladly,’ he says, in the dark window. ( )
1 vote Korrick | Feb 26, 2014 |
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Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, 'I have come from Alabama: a fur piece.'
Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679732268, Paperback)

“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” —William Faulkner
Light in August, a novel about hopeful perseverance in the face of mortality, features some of Faulkner’s most memorable characters: guileless, dauntless Lena Grove, in search of the father of her unborn child; Reverend Gail Hightower, who is plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen; and Joe Christmas, a desperate, enigmatic drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:29 -0400)

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Joe Christmas does not know whether he is black or white. Faulkner makes of Joe's tragedy a powerful indictment of racism; at the same time Joe's life is a study of the divided self and becomes a symbol of 20th century man. Light in August is the story od Lena Grove's search for the father of her unborn child, and features one of Faulkner's most memorable characters: Joe Christmas, a desperate drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry.… (more)

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