Monday, May 9, 2011

Intruder in the Dust: Review

Intruder in the Dust by William Faulkner is one of the hardest books I've ever read. I hated every moment reading it, but I have to tell you it's one terrific story and I wound up loving it. There are quite a few difficult reads (Moby Dick for one) that I am perfectly willing to admit are great literature and tell a good story--but I hated them. I'm not going to tell anybody, "You've just got to read Moby Dick!" If you want to and wind up loving it, then fine. But don't expect me to do any advertising for Melville. Just not gonna happen. Intruder in the Dust, now that's different. You really should read this one.

What is sad about Intruder is that it could have been an absolutely brilliant book if Faulkner hadn't been all caught up in that stream of consciousness thing. If he hadn't had to have the characters want to tell you all about what they're thinking and by the way that reminds me of something else and while we're at it let me tell you this and no I don't think I'll use any punctuation for this three page sentence because well that might help or make it clearer or something and I certainly don't want that. I haven't missed punctuation marks so much since Lord of Misrule and all that was missing there were the quotation marks for dialogue. I'm sure that Faulkner has lost a lot of readers just because they didn't want to slog through the stream.

The story itself is a pretty simple one. It is both a murder mystery [that's one of the things that caught my eye] and a straightforward picture of racial injustice. Lucas Beauchamp is a local black man who has refused to play the "nigger" for the white man and now finds himself falsely accused of shooting Vinson Gowrie, a white man. There are rumors of a planned lynching and time is short if Beauchamp is to be proved innocent. Beauchamp's pride makes things even more difficult. He calls for the services of a white lawyer, Gavin Stevens, but then refuses to answer his questions about the night of the murder. The only comment he makes is to Chick Mallison, the lawyer's nephew. It falls upon Chick, a young black boy named Aleck, and an elderly white woman named Miss Habersham to find the evidence that will set Lucas Beauchamp free.

In some ways this book brings to mind To Kill a Mockingbird (and it's obvious that Intruder must have had influence on Harper Lee). You have the black man falsely accused; you have have the white lawyer defending him; and you have a lot of the narrative given through the eyes of a central young character. I think Faulkner does a much better job of implying that fighting injustice is everybody's job--not just the lone lawyer who does what he feels is right even though the whole town seems to be against him (a la Mockingbird). It is underlined in Gavin Stevens' comment to Chick at the end of the book:

Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop being unable to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash: your picture in the paper nor money in the bank either. Just refuse to bear them.

You will notice above that I used the n-word. It was deliberate. Intruder is a book of its time. It is sprinkled with that word and with descriptions and attitudes that are not politically correct. That is the whole point. There is injustice in that word and there is injustice in the book. The whole town and even the sheriff are willing to believe that this black man murdered a white man just because he was there and just because he is black. No one really looks at the evidence at all. It is not right any more than the use of derogatory language about another race is right. Whitewashing the story and refusing to use or even acknowledge the word won't change history. All we can change is ourselves....and be like Chick and his uncle and Miss Habersham--refuse to bear the injustice.

Four stars out five--I'm deducting one whole star for the stream of consciousness that made my brain hurt.


Red said...

The stream of consciousness makes me want to back away slowly from this one, but the story sounds so good.

Bev Hankins said...

If you can manage to slog through the stream (which I admit is REALLY difficult if you don't care for stream of consciousness), then the story is totally worth it.

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