Alison's Reviews > Light in August

Light in August by William Faulkner
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's review
Aug 16, 2008

really liked it
Recommended for: people who enjoyed "Barton Fink"

It seems to me that in this novel populated with ghosts and ghost-hunters, the most important ghost is the idea of essential identity. These characters drive themselves crazy searching for a Way to Be--by which they mean rest, immobility, freedom from yearning and disappointment and change--yet that kind of being doesn't exist and never has. So Hightower lives a kind of living death immersed in the fantasy of his Confederate hero grandfather who was shot for stealing a chicken; Lena and Byron yearn after Being Married and Settled--though Lena's pregnant by a rascal she hasn't seen in nine months and Byron's helping her track him down; and Joe Christmas, unable to identify as either a black or a white man, insider or outsider, is always on the run, slashing and burning as he goes, seeking both comfort and disgust in the bodies of white outsiderish women (prostitutes, Yankees), women whose lives, like his, challenge easy power binaries--and upon whom he exercises violence and contempt, the moments in which he feels himself to be most and least a man. Meanwhile all the action's steeped in nostalgia for the Old South--a time when supposedly a slave knew her place and the master his--and who's to say if this was true or not, seen as it is only through the memories of our mixed-up contemporary characters? It seems that to seek any kind of stable self at all is an act of ridiculous nostalgia. And on a lighter note, everything in this book serves as a warning to readers who get frustrated trying to "identify" with the characters. That way madness lies.
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Comments (showing 1-4)

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message 4: by Phillip (last edited Sep 01, 2008 11:49AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phillip Great review, Alison - you state the essentials of the book in a concise post.

Alison Why thanks!

message 2: by Phillip (last edited Feb 25, 2009 03:25AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Phillip You're welcome!

I especially like the statement, "...this book serves as a warning to readers who get frustrated trying to "identify" with the characters". Great observation, and so true...I don't know how many times soneone has said to me:

- I didn't like that book.
- Why?
- I didn't like the main character....

What a ridiculous notion...that we base our appreciation of books on whether or not we like someone. This idea of a "transitive" self - through the process of identification, is one of the main problems the characters struggle with in the book (which you point out).

Christmas seems to commit his acts of violence out of this fear. That he will somehow "become" his victims (he doesn't want to become a crazed evangelist like MacEachern, nor does he want to become the victim of white oppression, like the young black girl he's led to in the shack, nor does he want to become part of Ms Burden's "curse"...but without noticing it, seemingly, he does become an extension of all those things - again, due, perhaps to this idea of the transitive self).

OK, sorry to blather on so long.

Alison Not at all; I enjoyed your comments!

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