Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Reading Those Classics 2023 #2

Classic Novella: Faulkner liked this long 1939 story so much that he read from it during a guest speech in Virginia.

Old Man – William Faulkner

This short novel narrates the experience of a convict during the Great Mississippi Flood of April, 1927.  The most destructive river flood in US history covered 27,000 square miles and affected over 700,000 people that lived in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Mississippi. Natural disasters are often remembered in folk songs so  Arthur Field and Memphis Minnie wrote songs about it. The flood was so devastating to life and property that even Republicans were shaken enough to get on board with the federal government committing the resources to build the world’s longest system of floodways and levees.

Faulkner tells a great story, mixing in the adventures of fictional characters with an historical event like the April 29 dynamiting of a levee at Caernarvon (LA) in order to save the Big Easy. This detonation caused destruction and loss owners never got compensated for and turned out to be needless.

This is a pessimistic theme that Faulkner examines in yet another tale about the struggle of our species against the forces of nature and the decisions of foolish humans turned faceless merciless leaders. Faulkner’s convict-protagonist acts out of steadfastness and courage but it’s a struggle against the forces of nature and the authorities. Live an unassuming life with a conscious emphasis on patience and good faith and see how much natural disasters or mindless bureaucracy care if you get in the way of them.

This short novel from 1939 would be an excellent story for the introduction of readers new to Faulkner who are justifiably nervous about tackling this notoriously hard writer. Like the novel Sartoris, Old Man provides a modernist work-out with lengthy complicated sentences using punctuation that’s not especially conducive to comprehension. There are also time shifts, poetic imagery and symbolism that readers can bring their own imagination and experience to. 

But no sticks of dynamite with hissing fuses -- like the challenging experimentation of The Sound and The Fury or mystifying word play of As I Lay Dying -- are tossed into the lap of the reader.

This story appears in these collections:

·         Three Famous Short Novels: Spotted Horses | Old Man | The Bear - Vintage ISBN 0307946754

·         Sixteen Short Novels - Wilfrid Sheed

·         Fifty Great American Short Stories - Milton Crane

·         Ten Modern Short Novels - Leo Hamalian

·         Eleven Modern Short Novels - Leo Hamalian

Click on the title to go to the review

·         The Sound and the Fury (1929)

·         As I Lay Dying (1930)

·         Light in August (1932)

·         The Unvanquished (1938)

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