Thursday, February 15, 2007

Literature: The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, Audiobook

Considered with Absalom, Absalom!, The Sound and the Fury may rightly be considered William Faulkner’s masterpiece. The two southern Gothic stories share the characters of Quentin Compson and Shreve in an overlapping of story lines. The Sound and the Fury was first published in 1928 but did not gain popular attention until 1931, when Faulkner published perhaps his most commercially minded novel, Sanctuary. Richly complex, The Sound and the Fury is considered finely crafted, displaying all of the elements of exceptional fiction writing. For this reason, the book is included in countless college and university curricula where students are exposed to its complexity too early for their understanding.

To this reader, Faulkner was never as accessible as when narrated. A number of years ago, I listened to the tale of Joe Christmas in Light in August (1932). Faulkner wrote in an early twentieth century cadence heavily influenced by the Southern African-American vernacular. Reading this is often challenging enough even not considering the stream of consciousness narration often employed by the author. A good narration goes a long way in clarifying the story. Such is the case of Grover Gardner’s reading of The Sound and the Fury.

Gardner’s voice is captured against a paper-dry aural backdrop with no compression or reverberation used. His ability to shift between accents, patois, and vernaculars is seamless with little or no bleed through. This dry sound is well suited for Faulkner’s story of the post Reconstruction decay of the Southern Aristocracy. Gardner’s best reading is of the April 6, 1928 chapter narrated by the bitter Jason Compson IV. Gardner captures Compson’s black humor and insincerity perfectly. He is equally up to the task for the Benjy and Quentin sections, capturing the white heat of thoughts and memories fleeting by faster than images can be mentally integrated and understood. Literary criticism would do well to focus on these sections in comparison with the words of Christ in the Gospel of John shortly before His Passion. Christ speaks in metaphor and allegory in an almost ethereal manner very much in keeping with those motifs (shadow and light) employed by Benjy and Quentin in their fractured narratives.

Simply listening to a narration of The Sound and the Fury does not necessarily substitute for actually reading the book. A story so complex requires study. Faulkner does not make things easy for the reader and this approach is anathema to our Twenty-First Century tendency to fast culture consumption with little consideration. This story requires the reader to employ all means necessary to understand the story and the manner in which the story is told. While not a substitution for reading, the narrated book does allow the reader to better understand the rhythm of Faulkner’s writing, aiding in the textual reading.

This review was first published in

© Copyright, C. Michael Bailey, 2007