READING FAULKNER

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“So maybe you will enter the literary profession as so many Southern gentlemen and gentlewomen too are doing now and maybe you will remember this and write about it. You will be married then I expect and perhaps your wife will want a new gown or a new chair for the house and you can write this and submit it to the magazines,” Miss Rosa Coldfield, Absalom, Absalom!

I can’t describe this trip without sounding like a lunatic. Or a poser. Or both possibly.

It’s the hottest week of the summer of 2011 and I’m behind the wheel of our Passat wagon barreling North up Mississippi’s U.S. 45. I’ve got the best Mississippi gas station barbeque beef tips balanced on the center console, some sweet tea in a Styrofoam cup and the husband reading to me from Absalom, Absalom!.

It was a scene that would have made William Faulkner proud: his work read aloud while the reader ate barbeque through Mississippi.

We were on our way to the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference hosted by the University of Mississippi that summer after reading about it for years in the New York Times book review. To be truthful, I was a little uncertain about attending this conference as amateurs. We didn’t even belong to a book club, for heaven’s sake.

But we did have ambitious enthusiasm for Faulkner and his world so spending a week studying, eating crisp catfish on the lawn of Rowan Oak and meeting interesting academics for drinks at City Grocery bar sounded like the perfect way to spend some hard-earned vacation time.

What we found was an unlikely group of high school teachers, graduate students, professors and other couples from across the nation who happen to love Faulkner. These were not academics studying the difficult works of a long-dead Southerner. No, this conference is designed to bring his famous, albeit somewhat confusing, writing in focus for us today.

Because behind the walls of every local gated community lives the ambitious heir of Thomas Sutpen, the Tea Party descendant of the Snopes or even the unaware and spoiled grandchildren of Anse Bundren.

Faulkner is simply telling you a story much like my brother does when he’s come across an act of Redneck stupidity too great to be left alone. If you’ve ever picked up As I Lay Dying and promptly sat it back down after a few chapters, find James Franco’s excellent 2013 film and all will become—at times hysterically—clear.

Or do what Faulkner himself advised his own wife after she had problems with The Sound and the Fury…”read it again.” Or, even better, read it aloud.

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