My interests run to psychology, popular science, history, world literature, and occasionally something fun like Jasper Fforde. It seems like the only free time I have for reading these days is when I'm in the car so I am extremely grateful for audio books. I started off reading just the contemporary stuff that I was determined not to clutter up my already stuffed bookcases with. And now audio is probably 90% of my "reading" matter.
What makes this book interesting is not the story. The story is pretty banal. What makes this book interesting is the characters, and the insight into how people feel and think, and the dynamics that develop within a family or any other group of people. Faulkner was a brilliant innovator of stream-of-consciousness and other modern narrative devices. I appreciate him more the more I read of him. A lot of writing presupposes that people think in words, but Faulkner tries to express the non-verbal feelings we have drawing from the words we would use if we had the time and the vocabulary to sort them all out. I think this accounts for some of the poetical imagery we get from characters who would not otherwise think some of the thoughts Faulkner ascribes to them.
The travails of the Bundren family are painful to watch. They all have their secrets from each other. They are all flawed individuals. They have barely held together as a family. Watching them all stumble through the trial of dealing with Addie's death makes you wonder how they can possibly all stay together much longer. But there are counterforces at work too.
One thing I cannot understand is how a 270 page book can be narrated in under 7 hours. I guess I will have to go look at a paper copy and try to figure it out.
The use of 4 readers for this book is extremely helpful in sorting out which of the 15 narrators is speaking at any given time. In general I give them high marks for conveying Faulkner's language and coping with the ambiguities of stream-of-consciousness writing. The one exception I have to comment on is the voice chosen for Dewey Dell. The reader chooses to make Dewey Dell into a kind of wispy, ethereal, dreamy teenager. She fails to capture any of the sullen, angry adolescent that Faulkner constantly hints is at the core of Dewey Dell's character.
However, that minor complaint in no way detracts from the overall quality of this audiobook. It's not about Dewey Dell, any more than it is about Anse, Cash, Darl, Jewel, Vardamon or even Addie. It's ultimately about something else. Something I don't know how to express. Faulkner knew how to express it, but it took him a whole book to do it.
That's a harsh characterization that is as true as it is misleading. It's true because Wolfe has written a book so deeply steeped in the specific era it was written that it only makes sense in that one context. It's also a tawdry story of little lasting literary merit. It's misleading because that tawdry story does in fact have elements of the universal in it, plus that plethora of 1980s cultural references makes it a charming time capsule of what things were like. This is a terrifically entertaining book. It's a vivid reminder of how much things are still the same and how much things have changed. Joe Barrett does a terrific job of getting all the voices and accents down right. Wolfe does a terrific job of portraying all the different agendas and the ambiguity of how a single version of the facts can be perceived so very differently by all the parties involved.
This is a short but profound meditation on the moments that can bring a sense of reconciliation and redemption to our lives, and how we misunderstand or misinterpret even those we are closest to. I remain somewhat mystified as to why he chose to base this, however loosely, on actual historical persons, or why he dislocated them in time from their actual historical dates. For that matter, I remain mystified as to why the book's internal timeline refuses to behave itself. None of this detracts from the beauty and concision of this gem of a book.
The recording has mysteries of its own. Sam Waterston is a fine actor and his reading is full of expressive nuances, but for some reason the sound is muddy. I can't tell if this is because it's an old transfer from tape, or if Mr. Waterston's voice is pitched oddly, or because he lacks that special clipped diction that makes other readers more listenable. Maybe my hearing is just suffering from old age.