Tuesday, January 08, 2008

For the First Time Ever...

I have just begun reading Thomas Wolfe's Look Homeward Angel. I am not even 20 pages into it and I'm already hooked. Dang! This guy could write.

I am actually torn between reading for general effect and reading for full comprehension. I think that I will read it faster for the general effect. Later I can come back to it and revisit. This is a book that I believe that I can read and enjoy more than once. I can't believe that I have never been required to read Wolfe in all my years of education. Even in my Southern Writers class we read Faulkner instead - FAULKNER!

It took me years just to read Faulkner and understand him - I was afflicted with him as a senior in High School too. Why is it that people always believe the most twisted perverse things about the South? It is because of the likes of William Faulkner and Erskine Caldwell. Thank God I didn't have to read Tobacco Road. I saw it for the first time last year at the Triad Stage in Greensboro (who, by the way, do a great job with their productions) and was utterly appalled. It was the most revolting thing I have ever seen called art. Caldwell had a chip on his shoulder and the South has been paying for it since.

OK, I'm calm again. I actually can see why Faulkner's writing has been praised. He captured - at least in Absalom, Absalom, the way Southern people tell stories. I just wish that his characters hadn't been so bizarre. If you've never read Faulkner before, there is a trick to it. See, when Faulkner wrote he would often insert parenthetical ideas that could literally last for PAGES before finishing the original sentence. The effect was something like this: (Forgive me, I'm a bit out of practice. I could do it perfectly in college.)

Salisbury was (Can't you remember that time that we went down to O.O. Rufty's General store? You know that time when the radiator hose busted there on East Innes Street. There we all were trying to get that blamed thing off the truck with everyone and his brother standing around gawkin' at us. Don't you remember how Uncle Jim burned his hand on the steam? I'll never forget how they used to have the buckets of seed right there in the walkway between the display cases as you entered the door. I always thought the pink corn was neat and liked the feel of it slipping through my fingers before my dad made me put it down on account of the poison that had been put on it to keep the birds from eating it.

That store was a veritable wonderland inside. They had things in there that must have been there since the store was opened just after the Civil War. There were farm implements and notions, old toys, hardware, clothing, doo dads, and thingamabobs, tools, housewares, fertilizer and all manner of other fascinating treasure. And in the air hung a pungent, earthy smell. I guess it came from the dirt that was ground into the hard wood floors and the farm chemicals.

Of course my favorite part was the drink coolers that they had there just inside the front door - you know, the big square chests that slid open at the top and contained bottled drinks. Not the kind of drinks they have now in the plastic bottles; glass bottles with metal bottle caps that didn't twist off. There was a bottle opener right on the front of the cooler. We always drank it right there so we didn't have to pay the 10¢ bottle deposit. Somehow a drink tasted better drinking it there in the lobby of O. O. Rufty's.

Thank goodness they had that radiator hose too. We'd a been in a fix if they hadn't. We were able to get the truck fixed and back home before supper.) a lot different when I was growing up there. Everything was a lot more laid back and slower paced. Everybody knew everyone....
That was typical of most everything that I ever read of Faulkner's with the exception that the characters are fairly normal and no one is doing anything scandalous in the back room. By the time you get to the end of the sentence that started four paragraphs ago you have completely forgotten what was being said.

The secret to reading Faulkner is to read until you get to a parenthesis and then skip on down to the end of the parenthetical phrase. Read the rest of the original sentence and then go back and finish the stuff in between. Get used to doing it. You won't read far without needing to. Sometimes it seemed like he even put parentheses inside of parentheses! The thing about it, though, is that if you listen to Southerners telling a story that's generally the way they do it.

I suppose that it is a little early in my reading of the story to be extolling Wolfe over Faulkner - only 20 pages in and one of the main characters turns out to be an alcoholic. But there is something different in the portrayal so far - something different in the presentation. It is being done respectfully, I guess. It isn't the South that is making him this way. It is his own generational demons that are driving him. I am truly shocked that I am already engaged with this book. I am already empathizing with the characters. I think this is going to be a very enjoyable read.

No comments: