'It's a Hard Life on Women, for a Fact'

I'm going into a Faulkner phase, and I'm not even convinced I like Faulkner. I read The Sound And The Fury when I was much younger, and while I recognized that a bad-ass was doing work, I didn't much like the book. Presently, I'm moving through As I Lay Dying. What's most impressive, to me, is how Faulkner can carve out five or six utterly distinct voices, and make them sound beautiful on their own terms. Two of my favorites so far:


When Jewel can almost touch him, the horse stands on his hind legs and slashes down at Jewel. Then Jewel is enclosed by a glittering maze of hooves as by an illusion of wings; among them, beneath the upreared chest, he moves with the flashing limberness of a snake. For an instant before the jerk comes onto his arms he sees his whole body earthfree, horizontal, whipping snake-limber, until he finds the horse's nostrils and touches earth again. Then they are rigid, motionless, terrific, the horse back-thrust on stiffened, quivering legs, with lowered head; Jewel with dug heels, shutting off the horse's wind with one hand, with the other patting the horse's neck in short strokes myriad and caressing, cursing the horse with obscene ferocity.

And:

It's a hard life on women, for a fact. Some women. I mind my mammy lived to be seventy and more. Worked every day, rain or shine; never a sick day since her last chap was born until one day she kind of looked around her and then she went and taken that lace-trimmed gown she had forty-five years and never wore out of the chest and put it on and laid down on the bed and pulled the covers up and shut her eyes. "You will all have to look out for your pa the best you can," she said, "I'm tired."

There's a kind of "fuck you" in Faulkner's style, this sense that he really is just writing for himself and those who are walking that same Southern road. He is most interested in his characters own internal dialogue, the sound of their consciousness, as someone recently told me, and what that sound, that rhythm, says about the broader world. I really like that—even if I don't like his books. Basically, I'm reading him out of respect. Absalom, Absalom is up next.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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