Jeffrey Keeten's Reviews > Absalom, Absalom!

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner
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Jun 02, 15

bookshelves: southern
Recommended to Jeffrey by: Mike Sullivan
Read from April 29 to May 03, 2012

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The picture above was used on the first edition dust jacket published in 1936 by Random House. It is the image I had in my mind, while reading this book, of the plantation built by Thomas Sutpen called Sutpen's Hundred. The hundred stands for a 100 square miles, the geographic size of the plantation. 100 square miles of land is equivalent to 64,000 acres. In other words it is a BIG PLACE. The gist of all this is that Thomas Sutpen built himself an empire. These plantations were so large that it required an unbelievable amount of human labor to keep them productive. Mechanical invention had not advanced enough to provide the machines that the plantation owners needed to work such a large tract of land. When you own more land than you can work and there is not a labor pool available to sustain your industry what do you do?

Well we know what they did, but what should they have done? Around 1800 when cotton became king is when the demand for slaves really escalated. Unfortunately the potato famine in Ireland happened in 1845 which brought a lot of displaced Irish to the United States too late to keep slavery from growing exponentially. Now i'm not advocating turning the Irish immigrants or the wave that followed of Chinese immigrants into slaves, but wouldn't it have been a better solution for our history if those plantation owners had adopted the flawed, but still better than slavery, system of tenement farmers? Eventually technology would have caught up with the needs of large land owners which would have freed up the tenement farmers for industrial work that made the North so strong. Maybe the availability of that labor pool would have encouraged manufacturing in the South. Some of the better tenement farmers would have become land owners themselves as plantations fell out of the hands of families due to the untimely death of a patriarch or mismanagement. Not a perfect world, but a better world and maybe, just maybe we would have avoided a costly Civil War that the South to this day has never fully recovered.

But then would Southern literature be the same?

I have a grudging respect for Thomas Sutpen. As a boy he was asked to deliver a message to a wealthy plantation owner in Virginia. He watched the plantation owner lying in a hammock with his shoes off while a slaves fanned him. Thomas was asked to go to the backdoor to deliver his message. He feels the slight. He lays awake at night thinking about what he can do about it. He does a stint in the West Indies and comes back to the United States, specifically Mississippi, with blacks speaking a strange language. "He wasn't even a gentleman. He came here with a horse and two pistols and a name which nobody ever heard before, knew for certain was his own anymore than the horse was his own or even the pistols, seeking some place to hide himself.

Quentin Compson is the thread that sews the plot together. As Rosie Coldfield and his father and a host of other people tell him stories about Yoknapatawpha County his head becomes filled with a convoluted history of his birthplace. "Quentin had grown up with that; the mere names were interchangeable and almost myriad. His childhood was full of them; his very body was an empty hall echoing with sonorous defeated names; he was a being, an entity, he was a commonwealth."

Quentin spends more time with Rosie Coldfield than he really wants to, but she has memories that he needs to fill the gaps in the story in his head. "Quentin....sitting in the buggy beside the implacable doll-sized old woman clutching her cotton umbrella, smelling the heat-distilled old woman=flesh, the heat-distilled camphor in the old fold-creases of the shawl, feeling exactly like an electric bulb blood and skin since the buggy disturbed not enough air to cool him with motion, created not enough motion within him to make his skin sweat."

I can see the native people, the families that have lived in this county in Mississippi for generations that watched this new comer, Thomas Sutpen, with bemusement. When he successfully rooked a drunken Indian out of some land they clucked about that, but then as he continued to gain influence and wealth, building a comfortable living out of nothing; they started to worry. This opportunity had been there for them their whole lives, but it took a man with daring from outside the county to see the potential (or have the immorality to make it happen). He took a wife descended from a good family and the community showed their disapproval by not showing up to the wedding. Undaunted, barely noticing that the community had turned against him Thomas Sutpen forged forward siring a son and a daughter and building the life for himself he had coveted as a boy in Virginia.

The Civil War happens. About every man that can walk a straight line is called up to serve. Thomas's son Henry is away from school and has become friends with Charles Bon who through the machinations of his mother has at the advanced age of 28 decided to go back to school. He meets up with Henry and as the plot advances we find out that Charles Bon is Henry's half brother. Charles becomes engaged to Henry's sister Judith and of course she is also his half sister. This causes, of course, much consternation in the family.

I really didn't think that Charles loved Judith. "It was not Judith who was the object of Bon's love or of Henry's solicitude. She was just the blank shape, the empty vessel in which each of them strove to preserve, not the illusion of himself nor his illusion of the other but what each conceived the other to believe him to be-the man and the youth, seducer and seduced who had known one another, seduced and been seduced, victimised in turn each by the other, conquerer vanquished by his own strength, vanquished conquering by his own weakness." I think he saw Judith as the only way of achieving his own birthright. (view spoiler)

The story is much larger than what I've touched on here. The book is riddled with incredible passages that would balloon this review up to megalithic proportions if I were to share them all with you. The layers of the story are frustrating and magnificent. I equate this book to going to a family reunion and you spend time with a great aunt, an uncle, and a grandparent and ask them the same question. The story is told to you heavy with repetition because the narrators know a lot of the same information, and yet from each storyteller you glean a few more nuggets because each person that you solicit for the story has a unique perspective and is in possession of different pieces of the life puzzle.

I had moments where I wanted to deconstruct this story, strain out all the repetitious information and write this story out in a linear fashion, but then it wouldn't be a masterpiece. It would just be another book telling a story about a slice of Southern history. By writing this book, this way, Faulkner not only preserved a piece of Southern history, but also preserved the tradition of Southern oral storytelling.

I found that this book read best late at night after my family was in bed and the only sound that I could hear were goldfish coming up for air in our fish tank. I would always intend just to read a chapter, but once I landed in Jefferson, Mississippi I was caught in the intricacies of the writer's web. I found myself reading chapter after chapter as if Faulkner's hand was giving me a gentle push to continue.

"Well, Kernel, they kilt us but they aint whupped us yit air they?"

I know this book is difficult, but find a quiet place, while you are reading this book, to let yourself be focused and relaxed enough to be sitting on the porch with Quentin and the people narrating the tale, and fall into the cadence of their voices, and let yourself be told a story.

Bonus points to those that can actually smell the "wistaria".

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Reading Progress

04/30/2012 page 56
14.0% "Last night with a storm howling at my windows i inhaled 56 pages of this wonderful book. I was there, right there in Jefferson, Mississippi smelling the wisteria blooming."
05/01/2012 page 174
44.0% "Faulkner's characters are ghosting through my mind while I'm trying to sleep. 2nd night running I've HAD to get up and read more of this book in the middle of the night."
05/02/2012 page 292
74.0% "Wow, more revelations in that section. This is one of those books that makes me *cough* um *sniffle* think about calling in sick to work so I can finish it."

Comments (showing 1-50 of 50) (50 new)

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Steve Sckenda ah yes, "it was a vintage year of wistaria" all pervading throughout Faulkner.


message 2: by Jenn(ifer) (new) - added it

Jenn(ifer) that's awesome! Those are my favorite kinds of books, the "had to get up and read more" kind. I bought this at a library book store for a dollar a few weeks ago. Looking forward to your review. (I haven't read your 'White Noise' review yet; waiting til I finish it)


Jeffrey Keeten (Jenn)ifer wrote: "that's awesome! Those are my favorite kinds of books, the "had to get up and read more" kind. I bought this at a library book store for a dollar a few weeks ago. Looking forward to your review. (I ..."

A dollar well spent. You might bottle some sleep before starting Absalom2!. I'm also anticipating your White Noise review.


Jeffrey Keeten Steve wrote: "ah yes, "it was a vintage year of wistaria" all pervading throughout Faulkner."

I'm on the look for a wisteria tree. It is drought resistant and does grow in zone 6. I'm putting one in my backyard. Literature has such a wonderful influence on my life.


s.penkevich 5 stars, nice!


s.penkevich 'By writing this book, this way, Faulkner not only preserved a piece of Southern history, but also preserved the tradition of Southern oral storytelling.'


Well stated. Wonderful review of an amazing (and my favorite) book.


Jeffrey Keeten s.penkevich wrote: "'By writing this book, this way, Faulkner not only preserved a piece of Southern history, but also preserved the tradition of Southern oral storytelling.'


Well stated. Wonderful review of an amaz..."


Thanks! This is a book that will get better with each read. I could have written and written about this book.


message 8: by Ian (new)

Ian Very nice, Jeff. Very nice.


Jeffrey Keeten Ian wrote: "Very nice, Jeff. Very nice."

Thanks! Ian.


message 10: by B0nnie (new) - added it

B0nnie I can see a lot of parallels to Gone with the Wind, and yet it must be its opposite in philosophy. I wonder if this was even a sort of inspiration for Margaret Mitchell, but no I see they are published in the same year.


message 11: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller I must stop using my free time (and even my not-so-free time) to chatter away on GR and get my reading of The Sound and the Fury done.


Jeffrey Keeten B0nnie wrote: "I can see a lot of parallels to Gone with the Wind, and yet it must be its opposite in philosophy. I wonder if this was even a sort of inspiration for Margaret Mitchell, but no I see they are publi..."

I probably need to read Gone with the Wind. I've watched the movies more times than I have fingers and toes. I also have been feeling I should read Raintree County, not Southern, set in Indiana, but epic.


Jeffrey Keeten Traveller wrote: "I must stop using my free time (and even my not-so-free time) to chatter away on GR and get my reading of The Sound and the Fury done."

We appreciate your chatter, Traveller. My next Faulkner will be The Sound and the Fury. I want more background on Quentin.


message 14: by Ian (new)

Ian Traveller wrote: "I must stop using my free time (and even my not-so-free time) to chatter away on GR and get my reading of The Sound and the Fury done."

I must stop using my working day to chatter away on GR!


message 15: by Traveller (new) - added it

Traveller GR is an addiction. I actually completely avoided it for about a year until recently but now I'm back and badder than before! And not getting any reading done - it's all going into the chatter! (At least I'm not doing any other social networking)

Yeah, interesting about Quentin being in both novels.


Diane Barnes I want to read "The sound and the Fury" also, but am thinking that it might be better to start with "The Hamlet", the 1st book of the Snopes trilogy, to get the history of the settling of the town of Jefferson. I am so thankful to this group for letting me rediscover Faulkner.


Jeffrey Keeten Diane wrote: "I want to read "The sound and the Fury" also, but am thinking that it might be better to start with "The Hamlet", the 1st book of the Snopes trilogy, to get the history of the settling of the town ..."

Good plan Diane, begin at the beguine.


message 18: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Awesome review! I can't smell the "wistaria". But I can feel a mysterious pull from the Faulkner collection that is sitting behind me, gathering dust for too many years...


Jeffrey Keeten Jim wrote: "Awesome review! I can't smell the "wistaria". But I can feel a mysterious pull from the Faulkner collection that is sitting behind me, gathering dust for too many years..."

Thanks Jim! You might as well just go ahead and pull one of those books from the shelf and blow the dust off it and get started. You might even get a whiff of "wistaria" when you flip the pages. It has been 20+ years between Faulkner books for me and that in itself is a tragedy of Southern proportions.


message 20: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim Thanks Jeff! You make a very powerful case, that is for sure.

It's pretty spooky. I can feel the magnetism from the exact spot where those books are sitting, without even looking back there to check. I think you have it exactly right - I might even fire up the vacuum and do the job right..


message 21: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark wonderfully atmospheric review


Jeffrey Keeten Mark wrote: "wonderfully atmospheric review"

Thanks Mark!


message 23: by Bennet (new)

Bennet I adore Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy, who have, it seems to me, comparably profound and dark voices, but I'll be the odd man out here and admit that Faulkner gets on my last nerve, such that I have yet to finish anything he's written except that story about Emily, but there are a few reviews that make me understand why others rightfully appreciate him and this is one.


Jeffrey Keeten Bennet wrote: "I adore Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy, who have, it seems to me, comparably profound and dark voices, but I'll be the odd man out here and admit that Faulkner gets on my last nerve, such th..."

I took a 20+ year hiatus from Faulkner. My goodreads friend Mike Sullivan convinced me that I needed to give him another try. I went into this book determined to finish it. After page 3 I was thinking to myself OMG what am I going to tell Mike, that I gave up this soon?

I wrestled with Faulkner when I read the book and again when I wrote the review. There was this point and I wish I'd made a note of the page number when I heard that CLICK in my head and knew I was going to finish the book.

The problem is getting relaxed enough to read Faulkner, difficult for me and I'm a veteran reader. The next hurdle for me was getting over the repetition (UGGGHHH I have no patience for that. I got it. I got it.)but when I understood what he was doing I released some of the anxiety I was feeling reading the book.

Can you tell that I'm still explaining Faulkner to myself? Sometime I'm supposed to meet up with Mike and a bottle of bourbon and discuss Faulkner in greater detail. I will need to notch a few more Faulkner's on my belt before I can hope to add anything to that conversation. Thank you Bennet for your kind words.


message 25: by Bennet (new)

Bennet I enjoy hearing about reading processes -- the hows and whys of engaging with books and authors -- and yours offers some hope that I may one day work through a Faulkner novel. The nice thing is, there's enough great stuff out there that we don't all need to appreciate the same things and couldn't read everything anyway, even if we wanted to. It's great to connect over mutually loved books, but I also enjoy the opportunity to learn from the mix of perspectives and preferences that GR provides, especially about literature I find difficult.


message 26: by Mark (new) - rated it 3 stars

Mark Bennett wrote: "It's great to connect over mutually loved books, but I also enjoy the opportunity to learn from the mix of perspectives and preferences that GR provides, especially about literature I find difficult"

I could not agree more. Excellent


message 27: by Bennet (new)

Bennet Mark wrote: "Bennett wrote: "It's great to connect over mutually loved books, but I also enjoy the opportunity to learn from the mix of perspectives and preferences that GR provides, especially about literature..."

Thanks, Mark, I always enjoy hearing that folks agree with me. :) But seriously, the things I've learned and been introduced to on GR should be earning college credits.


message 28: by Gary (last edited Jun 11, 2012 08:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary This was not my fav of Faulkner's. I liked AS I LAY DYING and THE SOUND AND THE FURY much better. I attended a conference in Missouri at the largest collection of Faulkner books in the States, possibly the world,and met one of the professors at the University. He was great,and spent 3 hours with myself and my bookclub. More info could be provided, if anyone is interested. They have a website.

I also went to Oxford, Mississippi. Somehow being there made me feel closer to Faulkner and inspired me to read him....He is not an easy read....he deserves multiple readings , in my opinion, and Dr. Hamblin, (the professor) would agree with me.

Anyway, much to my disgust , Faulkner's home, Rowan Oak, was closed when I was in Oxford. Have thought about going back,and hitting Piggott, Arkansas also for Ernest Hemingway...... I did get to walk around ROWAN OAK on the outside....didn't take many pictures, due to the disappointment of it being closed, even after I inquired about it at the visitors center,and no one told me it was closed for the summer.

Also, Dawn Faulkner Wells, wrote a great book about her "uncle" that I read last summer,and then recently the woman passed away.....I'd recommend reading that.

I have other Faulkner books on my shelf waiting for me to plunge into....some day......


message 29: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Light in August is good too.


message 30: by Wordsmith (last edited Jun 11, 2012 11:08AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Wordsmith Just BEAUTIIFUL. I too, have read most Faulkner, but as a reader, it is I who failed him. I was too young, not paying attention, juggling reads, so on and so forth. Simply put, I gave up on this genius. I hate it. I see here on Goodreads I've entered that I've read, but not yet rated Absalom, Absalom. For that to happen and to keep my reviewing standards spotless, which is a standard I'm aiming on repeating, therefore keeping, meaning I had better get ready for a re-read, as this is one of *those* books I'll have and want to go back to and re-visit. You just made me want to do it a little sooner.
*Edited* To add: When I do start reading this one, I'll be sure and make that trip to my mother's, so's I can creep away with a piece of her fragrant, trailing, wisteria vine. I sure hope it lives at least a full week! Beautiful pic. You and Mike both. This *wonderful-state of the art* I-Pad says "NO" to things such as that.


message 31: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary Very cool!


Jeffrey Keeten Wordsmith wrote: "Just BEAUTIIFUL. I too, have read most Faulkner, but as a reader, it is I who failed him. I was too young, not paying attention, juggling reads, so on and so forth. Simply put, I gave up on this g..."

A true test of any Faulkner review is how the Southern contingent feels about them. Thank you so much for reading the review and letting me know that you liked it. I owe Mike Sullivan a true debt of gratitude because he did a marvelous job of convincing me to give Faulkner another go. I'd read him in my early twenties and spun my wheels. For lack of a better term he made me feel ignorant, but what it really was about was the fact that I wasn't to the point in my life where I was patient enough to understand how brilliant he really is. At 45 I am approaching his works with a more mature mind and the patience to ascertain his true intentions, not to befuddle me, but to enlighten me and preserve a distinctive way of being Southern.

I think the wisteria will be your secret weapon for Faulkner.


Wordsmith Jeffrey wrote: "Wordsmith wrote: "Just BEAUTIIFUL. I too, have read most Faulkner, but as a reader, it is I who failed him. I was too young, not paying attention, juggling reads, so on and so forth. Simply put, I..."

Exactly. I thought I was SO smart when I was 17-18-19, HA! I know now that back then I knew less than nothing and now know at this point in my life I know even less than I thought I did back then. There's still a whole lifetime of learning ahead, so many books still unread. I *think* or I *hope* by this point, however, I can, like you said, at least understand, and respect what I'm reading.


Wordsmith Jeffrey wrote: "(Jenn)ifer wrote: "that's awesome! Those are my favorite kinds of books, the "had to get up and read more" kind. I bought this at a library book store for a dollar a few weeks ago. Looking forward ..."

I just caught this comment! Had to reply! This is a book I've been dreaming of! But I have so many other "reading" obligations at the moment. Grrrrr. I just finished "Underworld." This one is still "blendering" in my head. Several months ago, I happened upon "Cosmopolis" in a second-hand bookstore, and was blown away. I'm still confused, as I'm of an age when the name Don DeLilllo should be as natural to me as Stephen King or Harper Lee. But he wasn't/isn't, although he is now. He's THE MAN! I have to go to Amazon 2-3 times a week, just to gaze at all his books! *hanging head-So it's come to this* < New Yorker Cartoon. Yes please, White Noise Review!


Jeffrey Keeten Wordsmith wrote: "Jeffrey wrote: "(Jenn)ifer wrote: "that's awesome! Those are my favorite kinds of books, the "had to get up and read more" kind. I bought this at a library book store for a dollar a few weeks ago. ..."

Did someone ask for a White Noise Review? http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/...


message 36: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary I thought Underworld was great. I have other books by DeLillo , just waiting for me to crack open...
Too many books, not enough time.....

http://www.semo.edu/cfs/

Might as well post this..... Contact Dr. Hamblin for a personal tour. He's great!

gary


message 37: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary This is the lectures Dr. Hamblin did for Oprah's bookclub...I watched the lectures sometime back,and because a fan of Dr. Hamblin....the texts of the lectures are included here....

http://www.semo.edu/cfs/teaching/inde... on AS I LAY DYING.


Wordsmith Gary wrote: "This is the lectures Dr. Hamblin did for Oprah's bookclub...I watched the lectures sometime back,and because a fan of Dr. Hamblin....the texts of the lectures are included here....

http://www.semo..."


Thanks Gary. I added to my Home Screen for later reading and reflection.


message 39: by Gary (new) - rated it 5 stars

Gary You are most welcome!


Megan As the first child born in the deep south, my father wanted to name me Dixie Bell Hardy or Blue Bonnet Hardy...it was 1972...thankfully my mom won, Elizabeth Megan was sensible. It wasn't like they were yankees...they were from tide water VA with very embarrassing accents, "The Mouse is About the House" wasn't like anything anyone had heard before in Alabama. Anywho, he had a new found fascination with the south and this picture in particular, I remember it. On weekends we visited Indian Mounds (my Dad wore "Indian" jewelry on the weekends...it was the 70's) and significant archaeological sights in Alabama. At the time, other than Heller Keller, I do not believe Alabama had promoted or maintained historically significant ruins etc. I swear we visited this or something very similar...having to hike into it and climb a rock wall beside the river to see it...This was all at an impressionable age (Four or Five years old) and it has stayed in my mind all these years. I couldn't believe the size of the falling columns. He also took us to jump in the harvested cotton in the mesh walled tracker-trailer trailers. These plantation were like the Great Gatsby generation of the south. And all of this immensity due cotton agriculture was taken away and turned to ruins by the civil war. I often wonder if the carpet baggers had not come down and taken over, if the traditionalist could have paid the low wages that the carpetbaggers did, if the war hadn't lasted so long...how different the south would be today? Heavy metal instead of bluegrass? How much would we have lost of our past, much like Cuba will lose of its past as it comes into the 21st century.


message 41: by Rowena (new)

Rowena Such an interesting review, Jeffrey!


message 42: by Helen (new)

Helen Your review makes this book sound amaaaaaazing. I've never read any Faulkner. Looks like I should read this one.


Jeffrey Keeten Rowena wrote: "Such an interesting review, Jeffrey!"

Thanks Rowena!


Jeffrey Keeten Helen wrote: "Your review makes this book sound amaaaaaazing. I've never read any Faulkner. Looks like I should read this one."

Definitely an amazing experience. The key to this book is having a little patience. It all starts to click into place as Faulkner continues to hand you the pieces of the story. I'm so glad I read it and look forward to reading it again in the future.


message 45: by Margitte (new)

Margitte The nice thing about reading reviews of books before reading the actual books, is to be lured into it like you do with your reviews. Just one of those perks of being on GR. And yes, Wisteria is one the only climbers I am in love with. I have it spreading itself all over my garden. Thanks for a great experience, once again!


Jeffrey Keeten Margitte wrote: "The nice thing about reading reviews of books before reading the actual books, is to be lured into it like you do with your reviews. Just one of those perks of being on GR. And yes, Wisteria is one..."

You are most welcome Margitte. Comments like yours is what keeps me writing reviews. I planted wisteria and it is covering up my neighbors ugly fence that forms the border between our properties. It flowered and was gorgeous this year.


Russell Day In my judgement this Absolam,Absolam! is the greatest poem of all time. Do not try to read it correctly, nor look at the back for the story and just read it. That is how I read it. It was what mindfuck would be if a mindfuck felt as good as a fuck in actuality. I came to a mental climax. That is: if you spend your life living according to the wrong ideals, you are a tragedy. You are a waste. Then you wasted your life. Faulkner is the great in that each of his books has a singular meaning, whereas other greats might only achieve in all the books, one main lesson to give. Like how Larry McMurtry is about how all you can know is: Help your friends. So then you have with Faulkner creating these stories with these lessons that come out of each book in a singular way, something you really need to understand about humanity.


Renato Magalhães Rocha Absolutely amazing review, great analysis and showed me things I haven't seen while reading it or writing my own review. Thanks!


Jeffrey Keeten Russell wrote: "In my judgement this Absolam,Absolam! is the greatest poem of all time. Do not try to read it correctly, nor look at the back for the story and just read it. That is how I read it. It was what m..."

Sorry I missed this comment Russell. I absolutely agree with your assessment of Faulkner. Unfortunately too many readers become impatient with him and miss the cascade of wonderful revelations as information is shared. I do believe he has a deeper understanding of humanity than any other writer. Thanks Russell...great stuff.


Jeffrey Keeten Renato wrote: "Absolutely amazing review, great analysis and showed me things I haven't seen while reading it or writing my own review. Thanks!"

You are most welcome Renato and thank you for letting me know my thoughts were helpful to you. GR allows us all to enjoy our reading so much more by sharing our views with each other. :-)


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