The Sound and the Fury

by William Faulkner

The Sound and the Fury is undoubtedly bad entry-level Faulkner...but it's not terrible. I think Mrs. Bresnick assigned it to our sophomore English class because it was the same year we were reading Macbeth—so we'll forgive Mrs. B. (Light in August would've been so much easier!)—and Faulkner expropriated his title from Shakespeare's dialogue. Uncoincidentally, this Faulkner novel is itself "[A] tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing."

The story is provocative (incest! child molestation! suicide! castration! betrayal!), but the narration is extraordinarily Faulknerian and tough. Stream of consciousness can make for difficult reading, shifting point of view can be hard to follow, unreliable narrators can throw you off, and asynchronous narration sometimes leaves you lost. I guess I'm not complaining about any of those per se. The Sound and the Fury, however, comprises all four. And when you add to that that one of the narrators is mentally retarded...and that that narrator is the very first narrator of the book (chapter one; page one!)...what you're left with is a murky maelstrom you can only make heads or tails of here & there. Frustrating reading because, like I say, the story in & of itself seems interesting. The Sound and the Fury is a very quittable book, sadly.

Faulkner fakes you out by entitling each chapter with a date...but this isn't helpful in the least due to the fact that each chapter switches point of view and each narrator of each chapter moves largely stream of consciousness through time. The first-chapter narration switches characters' ages, names, and seemingly genders (turns out that's wrong but you have to wait for a later chapter to find out why) so frequently that were it not for the fact that my paperback purports to be the "corrected text," I would've thought it was rife with typographical errors. Like I say, turns out that's the fault of a narrator with developmental delay, but then comes chapter two: little more help because the next narrator is mentally ill! Fun, fun, fun. Which brings us to the third chapter. The narrator? A sadist. If you can hang in there until the fourth & final chapter, you get omniscient narration. Don't get too excited though. While it'd be a golden opportunity to authoritatively explain all the sketchy tidbits proffered throughout the book to that point, Faulkner doesn't take it. Now who's the sadist?