The Flashlight Worthy Works of William Faulkner

shelved under Best of... and Fiction

Not many authors have won the Nobel Prize, the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and created their own (PEN/Faulkner award). William Faulkner deserved it all and more. He's the quintessential Southern writer, pulling together races, classes, and sexes together in Mississippi. His short stories and novels manage to stay with their rural background while connecting with the grand scheme of humanity (referencing Shakespeare's works in one title and a Bible story in another). Stream of consciousness, diction, and specific, piercing language come together to make Faulkner's works pieces of art. The books that follow may, at times, be difficult but they're all Flashlight Worthy.

Light in August

Light in August

by William Faulkner

Light in August is one of Faulkner's most obvious commentaries on racial tensions in the South. The idea (conveyed by the title) of the distortion of colors and races under the hot August sun, plays a huge role in the three connected stories. Reverend Gail Hightower, Lena Grove, and Joe Christmas intertwine, each seeking an identity and a category to belong to. Often, the way characters view themselves has a disconnect with the way others view them. Emotions run high and not all of the stories end happily, but this search for self is a philosophical journey.

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As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying

by William Faulkner

This, Faulkner's fifth book, is widely considered his best. He himself called it "a tour-de-force". As I Lay Dying flits back and forth in stream of consciousness narration with fifteen narrators and fifty nine chapters that take us through the burial of the Bundren family matriarch, Addie. "My mother is a fish," is the entirety of one chapter, and all of the chapters are just as intimate. Glimpses into the vulnerability of children, friends, and lovers after Addie's death are rarely less than heartbreaking. Like other Faulkner novels, this has an actual journey (Addie wished to be buried in a far-away city) to complement the metaphysical one. Robert Penn Warren said about this that "For range of effect, philosophical weight, originality of style, variety of characterization, humor, and tragic intensity, [Faulkner's works] are without equal in our time and country."

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Absalom, Absalom!

Absalom, Absalom!

by William Faulkner

Absalom, Absalom! is one of the rare Faulkner novels where he explores the sense of place outside of the South. Narrated by Quentin Compson and his roommate at Harvard, Shreve, it focuses on the life of Thomas Sutpen, who arrives in Mississippi to build a plantation (and a dynasty) in the 1830s. The disconnect from the narrators from their stories leaves the reader with a haunting ambiguity. Who was in the right? Who can we trust? Faulkner has said that although no one who told the story got the facts right, the reader can seek out the truth. It's a long book (one sentence has 1,300 words) but a worthy adversary.

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The Sound and the Fury

The Sound and the Fury

by William Faulkner

I'm so glad we've gotten this far. The Sound and the Fury is my favorite book. Period. Not my favorite Faulkner book. Not my favorite Southern book (Sorry Penn Warren). Not even my favorite serious book. The Sound and the Fury changed the way I read. It changed how I talk to people and the music I listen to. Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, home of many of Faulkner's novels, is the setting and the focus is on the Compson family (see above in Absalom, Absalom!). It's divided up into four sections (five, if you count the appendix which is not included in some additions) which focus on different members of the family. The slow, agonizing decay of the Compson family and their social order twists heartstrings. Themes of incest, mental instability, and honor play out through their lives causing havoc and destruction. But, as the last sentence of the appendix says, "They endured."

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A Fable

A Fable

by William Faulkner

While Faulkner considered A Fable to be his greatest work, spending over a decade on it, critics were mixed in the reviews and it has been remembered as a lesser novel. This although it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and National Book Award in 1955. However, it is worth reading because of the abrupt changes from his norm: set in France, during World War I, it follows a corporal and his men who challenge the ideas inherent in war. The allegory of the Christ story is obvious but no less poignant because Faulkner makes it his own and does so delicately. It may seem tough reading at times, but the stories come together in a daring climax.

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This book also appears on Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction

 
 
The Reivers

The Reivers

by William Faulkner

This is one of my favorite Faulkner books. Little read, but much revered by those who have, The Reviers is part of the saga encompassing Faulkner's favorite family, the McCaslins. A story within a story — told to a boy by his grandfather — The Reviers is the tale of Lucius and Boon Hogganbeck's trip to Memphis in Lucius's grandfather's brand new automobile. Boon, the family's tag-along servant, invites Lucius (not yet eleven) on a joyride while the rest of the family is gone, and the two fight, struggle, and bet their way through the South. The Reviers is probably one of the funniest of Faulkner's books, filled with madcap humor that is only made better by the twists and turns of all of his writing.

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This book also appears on Pulitzer Prize Winners for Fiction