Light in August (Review)

Labels: Great Works


Light in August
William Faulkner, 1932
528 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
August 2011

One of literature's most compulsive reads, Light in August, takes us deep into Faulkner's mythical Yoknapatawpha County and deep into the minds of his characters—divided souls all, haunted by the past and searching for a place in the present.

The novel follows three separate storylines, all linked finally by an explosion of violence at the end. Very Faulkneresque.

The book opens with Lena Grove, a young woman in search of the father for her soon-to-be child. Naive but ever resiliant, Lena is the life force that grounds the novel; she frames the work at beginning and end, lending it hope and possibility—even a comic sensibility.

Joe Christmas, an enigmatic wanderer of uncertain race, turned up in Jefferson three years before the novel's opening. His job at the lumber mill is a cover for his bootleg liquor business. Abandoned in infancy on Christmas morning, adopted and beaten by Christian fundamentalists, Joe can't escape his desloate past.

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer
than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders.

Also trapped by history is Gale Hightower, the town's former minister booted out of his post by scandal. Hightower takes refuge in his imagination, steeped in the sounds of hooves and gunfire as he relives his grandfather's glorious (or inglorious) Confederate past.

Faulkner's novelistic concerns are on full display here: individuals—and a culture—trapped by a violent past, unable to move forward; the power of community both to degrade and empower; human psyches fraught with contradictions. He also shifts perspectives and timelines, interweaving past and present. He uses stream-of-consciousness and interior monologues to get at the complexity of human thought.

Light in August is pure Faulkner, and there's no one like him—he is the consummate prose artist and storyteller. The novel is so rich in imagery, metaphor, and meaning that you might want to do a bit of research to flesh it out. But your discussions should be rich and lively. To my way of thinking, Faulkner rules.

See our Reading Guide for Light in August.

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