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Having grown up in the South, the daughter of someone who wrote her masters thesis on Southern fiction, the idea of writing even a 300 word review of William Faulkner’s classic Light in August is intimidating, to say the least. In the South, Faulkner is a rite of passage, someone we all read in high school or college but certainly not since, preferring to celebrate our literary legacy through more contemporary “Southern fiction light”. Faulkner is just tough it’s dense and wrought with meaning classic literature at its finest, but not what you would call a beach read (unless you’re my mom).
And then I listened to Will Patton perform Faulkner’s Light in August.
Faulkner’s stories are written out of chronological order, in layers, in such a way that you might come to know a story over time from hearing it told by many different people in a place. Those who have studied Faulkner say when you get really caught up in one of the author’s page-long sentences, the best thing to do is read it out loud.
It’s even better to listen. With intonation, and the honey smooth cadence of Patton’s voice, the story is suddenly clearer.
Patton introduces us to Lena Grove as she begins her journey to find the father of her unborn child, Lucas Burch. Instead she finds Byron Bunch, who feels a strong pull to take care of her, though it puts him in an awkward social position. For guidance, Byron visits the Rev. Gail Hightower, a man so haunted by not even his own past, but that of his grandfather, that he has trapped himself in his own home.
Even before we encounter Joe Christmas, the 33-year old drifter of ambiguous race, the allusions to the life and death of Jesus are thick. There is a fire and a murder, and it all unravels from there. Patton’s voice carries us through it all, enhancing the story with approachability and authenticity. The Charleston-born Patton’s southern accent is true and real—not a touch of the theatrical, overdone linguistics adopted by some other actors.
In Light in August, Faulkner addresses themes of morality and race, religion and redemption all too deeply to address in these few words. But he does it without preaching or judgment, leaving the reader and in this case the listener to wonder about our own stories, and how they might be told. Sarah Evans Hogeboom
Earphones Award Winner (AudioFile Magazine)
Audible is pleased to present Light in August, by Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner.
An Oprah's Book Club Selection regarded as one of Faulkner's greatest and most accessible novels, Light in August is a timeless and riveting story of determination, tragedy, and hope. In Faulkner's iconic Yoknapatawpha County, race, sex, and religion collide around three memorable characters searching desperately for human connection and their own identities.
Audie Award-winning narrator Will Patton lends his voice to Light in August. Patton has narrated works by Ernest Hemingway, Don DeLillo, Pat Conroy, Denis Johson, Larry McMurtry, and James Lee Burke, and brings to this performance a keen understanding of Faulkner, an authentic feel for the South, and a virtuoso narrator's touch.
As an added bonus, when you purchase our Audible Modern Vanguard production of William Faulkner's book, you'll also receive an exclusive Jim Atlas interview. This interview – where James Atlas interviews James Lee Burke about the life and work of William Faulkner – begins as soon as the audiobook ends.
This production is part of our Audible Modern Vanguard line, a collection of important works from groundbreaking authors.
"For all his concern with the South, Faulkner was actually seeking out the nature of man. Thus we must turn to him for that continuity of moral purpose which made for the greatness of our classics." (Ralph Ellison)
Faulkner is a bit intimidating and difficult to process. I read several of his books in school, but somehow missed this novel. "Light in August" is undoubtedly the easiest to enjoy.
In the fictional town of Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, the time period is just after the Civil War during a time of extreme racism while rebuilding. This theme is carried out by the main character, Joe Christmas, an angry man of mixed ethnic origin who doesn't know who his parents are and who rebels against prejudice, embarking on a murderous rampage as a cry for help. He's trying to find his way in the face of cruelty; committing unthinkable atrocities. The themes of violence, perseverance, and hope walk you through the story without judgment by Faulkner. You draw your own conclusions and are free to interpret as you wish. He is truly the voice of Southern literature.
17 of 18 people found this review helpful
There are some novels where the artistry hits you so hard the soul seems submerged. Others are just the opposite. The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying are perhaps Faulkner's greater artistic achievements, but it is the soul and humanity and beauty of Light in August that will probably bring me back to this novel. It is a novel that resembles the ocean. It is a novel so large, so powerful, so conflicted that it makes you perpetually wonder at its beauty, depth and buoyancy.
15 of 16 people found this review helpful
I can see from some of the reviews that this book is heavy going for a lot of readers. And it is heavy going, no question about it. It's bleak and relentless but there are flashes of gold so pure and true that I felt not only was it worth it, but that without the darkness, the flashes of light would not have shone so brightly.
The language... oh, if you love poetic language and rich, fertile descriptions, this book is so linguistically erotic there were times when I felt almost embarrassed to be listening to it in a public place.
I can't believe it took me so long to get around to reading/listening to this. I'm so glad I did.
16 of 18 people found this review helpful
I have tried many times to make it through a Faulkner novel, only to become frustrated with my inablility to follow the complicated (albeit brilliant) style of his writing. He and Joyce are the two greats that I have not read to finality with any of their novels that I have attempted. Consequently, I was delighted to see that Audible was publishing this audio book with Will Patton as the narrator. Having listened to at least a dozen of his readings, light dawned instantly that this was the answer to my predicament. I was confident that, with his assistance, Faulker would no longer be a puzzle that I could not solve. He would provide the roadmap to get me through the Mississippi terrain.
I was not wrong in my expectations and I have not been disappointed in Mr. Patton or Mr. Faulkner. Each time I pull into my parking place at work, or into the driveway at night, I am disappointed that I must wait to continue with the story. But it is such a prize that I want to stetch out the experience for as long as possible.
While I was not alive during the era he writes of, I can remember my youth in the South twenty years later. The storyline and culture are eerily familiar. The strands of human nature still woven into today's headlines. Mr. Pattons's voice is a welcome friend and contains not a trace of falsity to the Southern tongue. The story line is relevent today both as history and commentary. It is all here......and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
17 of 20 people found this review helpful
This is my first time reading the notoriously difficult Faulkner. I did not find Light in August to be particularly difficult, though it's also said to be his most accessible work. Faulker writes in a sort of sparse poetry that reminds me a little of Cormac McCarthy (though it's probably more appropriate to say that McCarthy reminds me of Faulkner). Faulkner is not as sparse, though; his prose requires a fair degree of sophistication to grasp and he weaves many, many themes through this novel, so I can see why he's considered a challenging read, especially in the era of YA ascendancy.
I was captivated by that prose very early. I was prepared to fall in love with Faulkner. The first act of the novel is compelling: the simple tale of a naive young woman named Lena Grove who leaves home in pursuit of the ne'er-do-well who done left her in an expectin' sorta way, possessing an almost childlike faith that it was all on account o' him not knowin' the situation and planning to send for her anyway once he's all settled, so once she catches up with him, the Lord will see to it that they is married like a couple with a baby comin' ought.
Yeah, right, and pigs will fly.
While the writing remained beautiful and poetic throughout the book, the third act, in which Faulkner wraps up all his themes, ties up all the loose ends, and brought it all home, dragged to the point that I thought he spent quite a few pages just indulging himself in the portentous importance of his own ponderous prose. It didn't diminish the genius of his writing, but it did wear on me, as someone who has developed a much greater appreciation for literary writing in the past few years, but still prizes storytelling as an essential ingredient in a great novel. The flashbacks and stream-of-consciousness chapters pile on, never becoming less finely written, but I started to see why Faulkner is considered "challenging"; the book starts out as a fine Southern tragedy, but dumps us deep in literary Faulkner-land by the end.
Also, this book is squirm-inducing in its beautiful and poetic rendering of the rankest misogyny and racism. The n-word abounds and yes, it's set in a time and place in which it would be unbelievable not to hear it flung about freely, but I found myself uncertain to the end just where Faulkner stood and what he was trying to say about his racially ambiguous anti-protagonist Christmas, who spends his life reflecting the world's contempt and abuse back at it. Joe Christmas grows up hard and mean and who can blame him? What I also found as horrific as it was authentic was the multi-layered hatred of all womankind, expressed through every single male character in one way or another, even the relatively sympathetic ones. Women in Light in August are the enemy even when they are self-sacrificing martyrs, oppressing men by the very act of martyrdom. I know it's fashionable to dismiss authorial intent, Death of the Author and all that, but man, methinks Faulkner had some issues with women. One of the most compelling passages in the book was the one explaining Christmas's solidarity with the unloving, hated adoptive father who beat him against his doormat of an adoptive mother who did nothing but try to comfort him. It was hard and true and ugly, and just left me awed at such prose that could fill me with such disquiet.
“She is like all the rest of them. Whether they are seventeen or fortyseven, when they finally come to surrender completely, it's going to be in words.”
This was really quite an experience. One has to have a taste for Faulkner, I think, and I suspect people will have wildly varying emotional reactions to him. I was drawn into Light in August enough that I will certainly read Faulkner again. 4 stars, because the prose is truly Nobel-caliber, but the story became abstruse and, for me, hard to love by the end.
A fine performance by Will Patton, whose accent is Southern enough to be authentic without being so thick as to hinder clarity.
12 of 15 people found this review helpful
I've made it a LONG time without reading any William Faulkner. I decided it was time to cross it off my bucket list when I saw this had been narrated by Will Patton. The narration was first-rate, as expected. As to Faulkner ... it's not a fit for me. This was heavy, dark and dreary. A tough go. I appreciate Faulkner's gift for writing. It's singular. It's just not the kind of thing I want to read when I'm taking a break from the world.
15 of 20 people found this review helpful
It's hard to describe just what the structure of this book is. Characters we think are central disappear for long stretches. Characters we think are peripheral come to have major roles. The central plot line appears to lead nowhere. I am left with the sense that the real plot lies outside of what is reported in the book, and can only be inferred from the general shapes outlined therein. Faulkner is probably the most successful experimental writer of the 20th century. One of the few where we feel the experimental elements serve the function of the story instead of the other way around. In this book, it is the fragmented way of telling the story, and the sense of an overarching purpose that cannot be directly stated. Nowadays, the fragmented chronology has become so common that we may not appreciate how revolutionary Faulkner's work really was. One thing Faulkner is always good at is at expressing the ambiguity in a character's words or actions. Rather than simply say what a gesture means, he will leave you with a multitude of interpretations just as you are left in real life wondering what a gesture truly meant. Just as our own gestures mean more than can be neatly summed up in a tidy soundbite explanation.
It's not giving anything away to say that there are numerous allusions to the nativity story in this book, though it can be easy to forget as the story twists away in different directions. It's a very dark twisted version of the nativity story all the same. I think the underlying meaning of the book lies somewhere in the contemplation of its elements as they relate to that archetypal story.
Will Patton does a terrific job of keeping all the characters straight and of evoking the period and the people.
4 of 5 people found this review helpful
I would like to first say, to those that say - I must not be sophisticated enough. Oh Pahlease. It is perfectly okay to not like what some say is great literature. I have a literature degree and just finally gave up about 85% in.
I love this author's prose and one of his other novels is a favorite. However, his beautiful prose can only get you so far. And then the drudgery of the plot gets to you. I could tell you the plot in about three sentences. The only good this novel does (if this is a good thing) is that it preserves, in time, the sad life of blacks and whites in rural South. Prepare yourself for the N-word constantly in this novel. The men are crazy violent men. The women aren't fleshed out.
I think you're better off reading the themes synopsis and giving this book a pass unless you're really into American lit.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?
Yes, with the warning that the depictions of people are often harsh, as are the characters' attitudes towards one another as individuals, and as members of their particular class or race.
What other book might you compare Light in August to and why?
The time and place are not unlike To Kill a Mockingbird. Rather than everything being from the point of view of one character, however, Light in August tells the same story, and the backstory, from the points of view of many of the characters.
Which character – as performed by Will Patton – was your favorite?
ALL of them! Will Patton's delivery is spot on. His dialect is not an over-the-top, nonspecific Southern accent, but it has the subtle distinctions of class, culture, and geographic identity. I wish he narrated the Sound and the Fury. I'm finding even the sample tedious, and am not sure I will enjoy it because of the narrator.
If you could take any character from Light in August out to dinner, who would it be and why?
I think the murdered woman would be interesting to know personally.
Any additional comments?
I hope that Audible will engage / encourage Will Patton to narrate more Faulkner and other books by Southern authors. He is able to keep you inside the character, even when delivering, "she said," or "he said," which is important to this listener.
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I had not read Faulkner for many decades and I recall how repetitive and thick the prose . But on Audible, especially with the expertise of this reader, the stream of consciousness was natural. The uncertainty of what the characters saw or felt or decided was a real enhancement to the storyline. Savored this .
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I am in awe over this performance, Will Patton briethed life into this novel, read it according to the mood, to the characters, giving individual voice to each one of them. This novel is a wonderful mix of poetry and triviality, the good in people and disgusting stupidy if not evil - all equally share their part. It is the mastery of the language of angels and people that let Faulkner create a world inhabited by pitiful creatures, good and bad, both having our sympathy...
1 of 1 people found this review helpful
I never give up on a book. Well, I never have until this one. It's dreary, tedious, tells us every tiny moment in drawn-out misery and I can stand no more. The narration is similarly drearily drawled; I enjoyed his style for The Son, but it just reinforces how dull this story is here. I'll have to remain a philistine when it comes to Faulkner.
1 of 2 people found this review helpful