Absalom Absalom (Review 1)

Labels: Great Works

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Absalom, Absalom!
William Faulkner, 1936
313 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
March 2007

This is a spellbinding book, a sort of mystery story, in which we know who committed the crime but not why.

Faulkner takes a young man's murder and around that single event constructs an entire history of a southern aristocratic family. In many ways it is the history of the South itself. Absalom is the story of Thomas Sutpen, who in 1833 strives to create a dynasty out of a swamp, and who ultimately self-destructs. The story opens as young Quentin Compson first hears the story of the Sutpen family tragedy from old Miss Rosa Coldfield.

Later, Quentin's father tells him a different version of the same story, one he'd heard years ago from hisfather, who got it from Thomas Sutpen himself. Get it? We're hearing the story third-hand. Later that fall, Quentin tells the story to his Harvard roommate, who gets in on the act, speculating and creating his own version of what happened. Each telling reveals more of the mystery. What makes the work so compelling is that the "history" is open to multiple interpretations and speculation. So we're never really sure of the "truth." Welcome to literary modernism and to Faulkner. Buckle your seatbelts!

Faulkner is the Beethoven of the literary world, a writer who defies classic form, who ponders fate, and whose bass notes drive his stories forward. This novel takes on one of Faulkner's major themes: the destruction, or self-destruction, of the South, through human will, racism, slavery, and miscegenation. For Faulkner, though, things are never clear-cut.

This is a stunning work, challenging, exciting, breathtaking. It's the story that Gone with the Wind never told.

See our Reading Guide for Absolom, Absolom!

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