Absalom, Absalom!

by William Faulkner


“Read, read, read. Read everything—trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.” —William Faulkner

Absalom, Absalom! is Faulkner’s epic tale of Thomas Sutpen, an enigmatic stranger who comes to Jefferson, Mississippi, in the early 1830s to wrest his mansion out of the muddy bottoms of the north Mississippi wilderness. He was a man, Faulkner said, “who wanted sons and the sons destroyed him.”

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Faulkner's lengthy, rambling prose, sparse punctuation, and chronologically erratic plot make "Absalom, Absalom!" a challenging text, to say the least. Nine chapters, each constructed of lengthy, meandering paragraphs, written with unremitting verbosity and dialectical circuitousness, result in thousand-word-sentences and six-page-paragraphs. These long, unbroken blocks of text pose a Sisyphean task for any unprepared reader. I advice that the uninitiated come prepared with at least a "Spark-notes" knowledge of Faulkner, Shakespeare, Milton, and Melville before taking on this novel. That said, even the neophyte will find immense entertainment and enlightenment in these pages. Faulkner treats the white space as a loom and skilfully weaves a beautiful story of conflict between races, classes, and generations, marked by astoundingly beautiful passages and dialogue. While "Absalom, Absalom!" is in no way a beach-read, the time invested in this novel appreciates its value in enjoyment.

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