Deal Me In Lite, Week 18: "An Odor of Verbena" by William Faulkner
This week brought the six of diamonds, and a story that I put on my list because I thought I ought to, not because I wanted to.
Let me preface my review by saying that I have never been a fan of Faulkner, at the risk of being drummed out of his home state (although I'd venture a guess that many of my fellow Mississippians feel the same way). I had to read Faulkner in high school, like most everyone, I suppose, and I didn't understand him then, and I don't understand him now. As I recall, we had to read The Sound and the Fury back then, and just the mention of that book still sends chills up and down my spine. It's a real horrorshow of a book, if you ask me.
The main thing I dislike about Faulkner is his writing style, which is a real shame since that's the very thing admired by people who actually like Faulkner. But it honestly seems like he tries to muddy the sense of his story by his style. Exhibit A from the story I just read:
Then he flung the door violently inward against the doorstop with one of those gestures with or by which an almost painfully unflagging preceptory of youth ultimately aberrates, and stood there saying, "Bayard. Bayard, my son, my dear son."
I have now read that sentence probably a dozen times and I still don't know what it means. Thanks, Faulkner!
Here's Mr. Faulkner thinking about how many words he can use to say "You're welcome."
The story is told from the point of view of Bayard Sartoris, a young man who is away at law school. One evening he is told by one of his professors that his father, Colonel Sartoris, has been shot and killed. One of the family servants, Ringo, has come to accompany Bayard back to the family homestead as quickly as possible. It appears that the Colonel has been murdered by his business associate and longtime political rival, Ben Redmond. Now everyone in the family, including the Colonel's young wife Drusilla, expects Bayard to avenge his death by killing Redmond. But it soon becomes clear that Bayard doesn't exactly have in mind the revenge that everyone else thinks he should. In fact, he ends up confronting Redmond bare-handed, daring his father's foe to kill him just as he killed the Colonel (I guess?). It's hard to say, because Faulkner LOVES to have his characters just allude to things in passing, or even to leave them virtually unsaid. So many times I was left wondering exactly what was going on. The story does reach a resolution, however, and Bayard does find some redemption in his actions, so the reader feels relatively satisfied by the end of the story.
As you can see, I definitely had mixed feelings about "An Odor of Verbena." I think I might read it again sometime, or even (gasp) read the entire novel and see if it makes any better sense in that context. But I will say this though -- love him or hate him, Faulkner is one of the most distinctive writers that the South ever produced, and he probably deserves his place in the pantheon of Mississippi writers.