The lack of physical descriptions in this book is bothering me. Race is clearly a major issue, and yet I am often left confused about who was of what race. In some stories that would be a strength – that neutrality – but considering that I suspect it is so darned important here, I would like to know who is who. Rarely do we get a physical description. And then, out of nowhere, I get this:
She was a waitress in a small, dingy, back street restaurant in town. Even a casual adult glance could tell that she would never see thirty again. But to Joe she probably did not look more than seventeen too, because of her smallness. She was not only not tall, she was slight, almost childlike. But the adult look saw that the smallness was not due to any natural slenderness but to some inner corruption of the spirit itself: a slenderness which had never been young, in not one of whose curves anything youthful had ever lived or lingered. Her hair was dark. Her face was prominently boned, always downlooking, as if her head were set so on her neck, a little out of line. Her eyes were like the button eyes of a toy animal: a quality beyond even hardness, without being hard.
This is both lovely and, in some ways, bothersome to me. I love that she was not short, but rather “not tall.” And then that “smallness… not due to any natural slenderness but to some inner corruption of the spirit” comes along and I wanted to sarcastically retort, “you mean like a cocaine addiction is an inner corruption of the spirit”? Her face “always downlooking, as if her head were set so on her neck” is quite amazing and evocative; it makes me pause to picture this. But I can’t quite tolerate the “quality beyond even hardness, without being hard.” Come off it, Faulkner.
My impatience with his writing makes me question myself. I am often a little scornful of what strikes me as pretentious Literaryness; but then I’m so often appreciative of lyrical writing, so where do I draw the line? Am I letting my prejudice against (or to be more honest, my fear of) Faulkner get in the way of an honest appraisal? How to account for taste – even my own? It remains a puzzle. As I’ve written before, I think we all should attempt – as I am trying to do – to own our own reactions and tastes, and not apologize for not liking those who are called literary greats (Henry James, T.S. Eliot, I’m looking at you). Why don’t I like Faulkner? Take in a sentence like this:
I do not know yet that in the instant of sleep the eyelid closing prisons within the eye’s self her face demure, pensive; tragic, sad, and young; waiting, colored with all the vague and formless magic of young desire.
I’m sorry, but this reminds me of the abstract art that us philistines can’t tell from a kindergartner’s work. Speaking of vague and formless – this reminds me of The Waste Land, or Gertrude Stein, for goodness’ sake. If I keep reading this, I may go crazy.
On the other hand, I took in Jason’s lovely, helpful comments on the book beginning I posted, and I am somewhat encouraged. Some of this will just turn out to be a matter of taste; Jason can have Faulkner and I can have Hemingway, who some people abhor and that is fine, etc. etc. But perhaps I can continue with Faulkner and find more to like, too. Jason, I’m still looking forward to As I Lay Dying. I am trying; don’t lose patience with me yet.
And for now, I continue, but wish me luck.