“For Rats” – William Faulkner’s short story “A Rose for Emily”

It was almost exactly 80 years ago that this story was published, on April 30th, 1931. It was actually a story I was supposed to read last week as part of my short story reading project (I’m a little behind). It’s a story whose reputation precedes it, and I was looking forward to reading my first William Faulkner in years. It left me melancholy and not a little confused.

It’s the story of the pitiable life – and death – of one Emily Grierson, a relic from a time gone by. A scion of a Southern family rich in aristocratic privilege, she seemed to never have had A Life of Her Own.  Her treatment by town officials and other citizens was full of deference and laissez faire, perhaps adding to and fixing her future as a recluse and a woman out of time and place.

As a reader, I felt great sympathy for her, and feel the same for those people in society of any time and place like her. Perhaps as an illustration of Faulkner’s mastery, I was able to feel this sympathy in spite of not really knowing that much about her character. Was she crazy? I don’t know. Probably. Was she evil? I don’t know. Possibly. Is it her fault that she was probably crazy and possibly evil? I don’t think so.

A couple “literary coincidences” (borrowing this term from Darlyn at Your Move, Dickens) accompanied my reading of this tale. For one thing, it’s told out of order. It starts with her funeral but then hops around her prior life before finally alighting again after her death. This is remarkable to me, for at the same time, this week I’ve also been rereading Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five whose main character, Billy Pilgrim, becomes “unstuck in time” – a phenomenon which perhaps can best be explained by the Tralfamadorians, but essentially means switching to and fro between different moments of one’s lifetime (more on Slaughterhouse Five when I finish my reread).

The other coincidence is my recent reading of To Kill a Mockingbird, which also features a character who never leaves his house and is the inspiration for wild speculation and rumor amongst his fellow citizens. Can you say “Boo Radley?”

I don’t know what else to say about this story without giving away too much of the plot details – or the fate of Homer Barron. So… Just read it yourself! It’s only about eight pages long, and is available for free in many places on the Internet. Here for one.

Also, Faulkner himself once wrote about his intended meaning for the story. You can read his brief “explanation” at: http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/litweb05/workshops/fiction/faulkner5.asp

Have you read any Faulkner? Is this short story representative of his other work? What else of his would you recommend that I read?

William Faulkner

Sent from my iPad

April Reading – The Month Ahead

I’m a little behind schedule here with what has become a traditional monthly post, but here’s what’s on tap for me in April:

“Obligatory” reads: I have two. My book club is reading I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. I am actually the one who put this book on our club’s “bookshelf” after reading so many great things about it from my blogging colleagues last year. Someone else picked it to read, but in a sense it is “my” book. The way my club works, usually every three or four meetings you’re either reading a book you added to our shelf or a book someone else added but you picked. I like that, as members have a “connection” with double the books than a normal club where everyone just takes turn picking a book they recommend. In our club, you have to pick a book someone else recommends. My other book club, the KVMLBC, is reading Slaughterhouse Five this month. It’s the second month in a row we’re reading a book I’ve already read, but I plan on reading it again to refresh my memory for the meeting.

Other books? Well, I’m about 200 pages (out of over 600) into Trollope’s The Small House at Allington now, and have gotten more into the characters and more used to the writing style. I’m likely to finish this one in the next couple weeks. I’ve also started and paused Desert Spear by Peter Brett, the sequel to one of last year’s more pleasant surprises, The Warded Man. I’ve also started the depressing book, The Fear, by Peter Godwin. I heard about this on NPR on the way home one day, and it sounded interesting. It’s a non-fiction book about Robert Mugabe’s “reign of terror” in modern Zimbabwe. (A lot of unpleasant material in it, but hard to put down)

Let’s see… What else? Oh, a former boss gave me a copy of a non-fiction book his sister wrote about hiking the Continental Divide Trail. I’m really looking forward to this one as well, since I have hiked a lot in the mountains myself. Another non-fiction book I hope to get to is Dr. Richard Gunderman’s book about the nature of philanthropy, We Make a Life by What We Give. This book is a little out of my comfort zone as far as reading genre goes, but Gunderman happens to be a former college roommate of mine and one of the smartest people I’ve ever actually known personally.

Well, I’m sure I won’t get to all of those this month, but probably four or five will be completed. I also have my ongoing short story reading project. I drew a new card Saturday, and it turned out to be Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily,” but I haven’t read it yet. I’ll have that one and probably three more stories to be randomly determined as the weeks unfold.

What about you? What are you reading in April? Are we reading any of the same things? Is there anything you’d recommend I consider for my may list?

Oh, I almost forgot: Go Butler Bulldogs!!