mark monday's Reviews > The Old Man

The Old Man by William Faulkner
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really liked it
bookshelves: super-private-journal, unicorn, world-of-insects, masterpiece-theatre

Faulkner is some kind of author, constructing these gorgeous, intense, lavishly long and winding sentences full of commas and semicolons (my favorite) and parentheses and interesting adjectives and surprising offhand observations that still give one pause (to think on one's own experiences and how they connect with those offhand observations so casually made yet so often ringing with a certain timeless and often sad truth) and somewhat dismissive bits of characterization (that don't feel so dismissive once one again pauses (although it is hard to pause when the sentence goes on for so long, one could get lost) and thinks over what was just said because Faulkner doesn't seem like the sort of author who just casually dismisses a character; close observation of what he is trying to say is of paramount importance) and a narrative that ebbs and flows, starts and stops; clearly the narrative is not the most important thing in his stories. He is like a talkative lover who wants to talk and talk and talk about their love and their passion and who wants to try all sorts of new things, who wants to take you into their world, surround you, just really take you over; I'm not usually into those kinds of lovers but they and Faulkner can be so overwhelming that my defenses are forced down and I have to do things in a new way, their way and his way, and in the end it's not a bad experience, but it is their experience that I have become a part of; as I said, it's distinctly like being taken over, at least temporarily. Faulkner doesn't make things easy for his readers, he wants them to live in his world and in his mind and so his passion and ease and experimentation with language (including a first for me: parentheticals that cross two paragraphs! I'm not sure I've come across such a thing before, certainly not something I recall from reading Faulkner in the past, in high school, with the fearsome and possibly senile southern belle Mrs. Durham, rest in peace.

Ah, Mrs. Durham! A terrible person in many ways, but hearing her lavish praise of Light in August day after day, despite her students' decided lack of interest, made me realize that passion can be expressed for many things, including and perhaps especially for books.) and his desire to immerse his readers in his worlds by challenging them with that - one would almost say - berserkly baroque use of language, that kind of storytelling, vivid and visceral yet loose and casual too, it is like a delicious provocation that a person like me, who likes challenges, certainly cannot resist. Faulkner's style is like the Old Man River of this novella's title: a force to be reckoned with: a flood that just sweeps and pulls everything inside of it, your will be damned. "Old Man" swept me away for a little while, but it was at times a distancing experience as well, characters who made some kind of sense to me but characters that are still unknowable by the end, despite all of the words words words. And despite all of the words words words, these characters barely talk! Everyone locked in their stony worlds, their barred cells where they follow their own rules and things like empathy and kindness are never given, man that journey down the river, the people our convict and our pregnant lady come across, the lack of compassion, I could barely understand it: why can't the people in "Old Man" and why can't people in general just show some goddamned mercy?

I didn't understand it until in one terrible flood of understanding I did understand it: I'm like those people too, especially that trio on the boat who refuse to shelter our convict and our pregnant lady, clearly in dire straits and out in terrible, life-endangering weather, they showed compassion in their own way by giving some food but they didn't take in our convict and our pregnant lady on the verge of giving birth; just as I didn't take that poor homeless guy and his cat on a leash huddled in a doorway in either, not when I see them in the sunlight nor when I saw them last night in the torrential rain and terrible cold while on my way home from the store, all I can do is spare some change and maybe pick up some cat food for him, but the thing is, I could have, there's room in my basement, not the best accommodations but it is outside of the fucking rain and cold, but no, I'm not going to do that, I'm going to walk on and feel sad and help out in a small way that doesn't matter much but I'm not a bad person, not really, and so I realized these people are not "bad people" either, and what does that mean anyway, they are just people who are looking out for themselves and don't want to compromise their world and that's like me and the convict and the pregnant lady too, we all live our own lives and follow the rules of our own worlds, even when we could do otherwise, we do what we know and stick with what we know; and so after all of his adventures and his amazing bravery in protecting our pregnant lady, at the end our convict is back in his jail cell, not much the worse for wear, and he's happy to be back in the box where he feels the most comfortable, where he understands who he is. Just as I'm happy in the box where I'm comfortable. Personally I don't think Faulkner believes in these boxes; well, he respects them in his own way, and he doesn't hold the fact of the box against the person who lives in that box, but I doubt he believes they are necessary to truly living a life. He's too outside of the box to think that way, I think.




9 of 16 in Sixteen Short Novels
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Reading Progress

January 16, 2017 – Started Reading
January 16, 2017 – Shelved
January 17, 2017 – Finished Reading
April 7, 2018 – Shelved as: unicorn
April 7, 2018 – Shelved as: super-private-journal
December 16, 2018 – Shelved as: world-of-insects
February 17, 2019 – Shelved as: masterpiece-theatre

Comments Showing 1-17 of 17 (17 new)

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message 1: by Agnieszka (last edited Jan 19, 2017 02:14AM) (new)

Agnieszka Great review, Mark. Haven’t read that particular Faulkner yet but I can only applaud about your statement about his writing. I had such tough time when I tried him for the first time. It was As I lay dying and I couldn’t enter into his prose at all. It seemed too dense to me, too suffocating and I couldn’t make head or tail about it. But one day something just clicked and I was stunned how good it was. And my next encounter with his writing which appeared to be Light in August was fantastic experience from the start. Perhaps, reading later Virginia Woolf and Saramago to mention only a few such demanding writers, I just get accustomed to that kind of narration. Demanding but highly satisfying for a reader.


message 2: by Matthias (new)

Matthias Very intense! I don't think I could handle an entire book like this but your review was highly enjoyable keeping track of in which parenthetical one finds himself.


message 3: by Madison (new)

Madison Gilmore Melissa Durham....? I know an English teacher with the same name... and matches your description perfectly, minus the dead part.


message 4: by mark (last edited Jan 19, 2017 12:09PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday Agnieszka, thanks! I need to reread Light in August; I think I may have been the only student in the class who liked it. Your description of Faulkner's prose as feeling too dense, too suffocating makes perfect sense to me. and also how one day something just clicked and you were stunned at how good it was. that was my experience exactly.

Matthias, glad you enjoyed it! I must admit it was rather a pain in the ass to write, but I wanted to do an homage to Faulkner, so...

Madision, she is definitely long departed. many years past. never knew her first name. taught English and Bible Studies at Los Alamitos High School in Orange County, California. in the 80s! because I am an old man myself.


message 5: by Mary (new)

Mary Regan Stunning review and insights Mark. This is why to read in general and why to read the classics in particular. Thank you.


message 6: by Fionnuala (new)

Fionnuala Mary wrote: "Stunning review and insights Mark. This is why to read in general and why to read the classics in particular. Thank you."

Echoing that thought :-)


mark monday perfectly said: "This is why to read in general and why to read the classics in particular."

this novella is from Sixteen Short Novels. each classic I've read has been a kind of journey, even the ones I've disliked. so much to contemplate and reflect upon; so much to think on how what I've read links up with my own thoughts and experiences, and challenges them as well.

and thank you Mary & Fionnuala!


message 8: by Ɗẳɳ 2.☊ (last edited Jan 21, 2017 12:32PM) (new)

Ɗẳɳ  2.☊ That style is probably why I've avoided Faulkner and some of the other literary giants. I'm too old and simple-minded to appreciate their genius (I mostly read for entertainment), but your genius is clearly evident.

Great review, mark.


message 9: by mark (last edited Jan 21, 2017 11:50AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday *I'm sure you meant to say simple-minded, old man Dan

I read for entertainment rather than edification too, but I find entertainment in curious places.

**I'm certain you also meant my evil genius

most importantly: thank you Dan. what a sweetheart!


message 10: by Ɗẳɳ 2.☊ (new)

Ɗẳɳ  2.☊ Whoops! I'm the master of the typo, and I've no doubt you're of the evil genius persuasion. ;)


message 11: by carol. (new)

carol. Excellent first paragraph about Faulkner and writing style. I think I actually understood literary style for a few moments.


message 12: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday glad to be of service. and especially glad that you were able to decipher that rambling first paragraph!


message 13: by Kirk (new)

Kirk Nice review of one of my fav. authors (though I've never read this one). And your old teacher was right about Light in August.


message 14: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday she was indeed! and thanks.


message 15: by Dillwynia (new) - added it

Dillwynia Peter This is entering my To Read Mega List. I love Faulkner & have the trilogy the village, town & mansion at home.

My most fav was Absolom O Absolom. One of the greatest works ever written - mostly for the concepts and style as well as the story.
Ugly, broken people.


message 16: by mark (new) - rated it 4 stars

mark monday but no doubt Faulkner writes about them beautifully! I'm reminded of Steinbeck as well, another beautiful writer writing about ugly, broken people.


message 17: by Dillwynia (new) - added it

Dillwynia Peter mark wrote: "but no doubt Faulkner writes about them beautifully! I'm reminded of Steinbeck as well, another beautiful writer writing about ugly, broken people."
Exactly. I can read about these folks & see why the author has bothered to invest SO MUCH TIME into these characters, because almost always they are universal.

There are plenty of hacks out there that could do with a bit of retraining, as we say in government.


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