Traci's Reviews > The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem]

The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem] by William Faulkner
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's review
Oct 11, 09

bookshelves: novels
Read in October, 2009

** spoiler alert ** This book deserves a re-reading, not because it was the most spectacular or most compelling piece of writing I've ever encountered, but because for a generous portion of the novel, I was laboring under the misconception that the plots of the two stories--"The Wild Palms" and "Old Man"--connect.

On the one hand, "The Wild Palms" is about Harry and Charlotte, a young doctor and a married woman who battle madly for Love uncomplicated by societal obligations or expectations, who do whatever they can to escape convention and respectability, at the cost of their reputations, their comfort, and yes their lives. Interwoven with this plot is the story of the tall convict, which takes place ten years earlier, and his encounter with the Mississippi River as it overflows its banks and floods the entire landscape. The tall convict accidentally escapes on a skiff when he is supposed to be rescuing people from the flood, and though he rescues a pregnant woman (who soon gives birth), he is swept away before finding his other charge. "Old Man" follows the tall convict as he tries to surrender, to get back to his life in prison, while simultaneously and begrudgingly taking care of the woman and her baby.

I kept wanting the tall convict to appear in Harry and Charlotte's story, or vice-versa, but that never happened, and it wasn't until the very last chapter, an installment of "Old Man" in which the tall convict tells his fellow inmates--to whom he has finally returned--about an old sweetheart that abandoned him in prison for another man, that I realized how the stories had been resonating against each other the entire time.

So when I re-read this novel--and I think it is a novel--I want to be looking for vibrations between:

* the Love that Harry and Charlotte must constantly, humanly, try to reinforce and reinvigorate & the Old Man, the wild and powerful river that overcomes both the levees and the law

* how Harry and Charlotte do everything they can to avoid becoming complacent & how the tall convict returns to prison because prison is the only life he has ever known

* the way that the convict is both burdened by and obligated to the woman and her baby & how this relationship is somehow related to the first woman that broke his heart

* how something, Love or the River, can lead you somewhere, no matter how much you rail against it

* freedom from society's expectations of a man and woman & freedom on the water

Really, I think you need to get to the final two chapters to really see how "The Wild Palms" and "Old Man" connect. I think you need to see Harry, standing in his prison cell, watching a man and woman live isolated and free on an abandoned ship surrounded by water. I think you need to hear the tall convict talk about his first love and I think you need to hear him say, in a last line that hits you like a ton of bricks: "Women, shit." I think you need to get to the end to understand the beginning, and I think to get the full impact of this novel, you need to read it again.

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10/02/2009 page 121
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