I finished Faulkner’s Intruder in the Dust and volume 2 of Shelby Foote’s Civil War yesterday. A conicidence, really, since I have been plodding through volume 2 of Foote for something like nine months.
Intruder did not disappoint, but neither will it go down on my list of favorite Faulkner. It’s not an easy read, and I’m not sure the payoff is as big as Faulkner’s other really difficult reads (i.e. The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom!) although I will acknowledge that maybe there’s substance to it that I missed that would multiply my appreciation of the book. I must remember to use my brother’s JSTOR password to cruise some articles about it and see what’s there to grapple with.
The quote about Pickett’s charge that I cited the other day, and indeed that whole passage of the book about the eternal Is of the past and all time, was, of course, magnificent. And certainly the book wrestled fiercely with the South’s complicated race issues, but did it do so in a way that was fundamentally different from any of Faulkner’s other race-focused books? I guess so–the perspective of a teenage boy and his relationship to an older black man is certainly a different lens through which to examine race in the South than we get in, say, Light in August. Light tackles the question of what is race and why is it so fucking important through (in part at least) the racially ambiguous Joe Christmas, whereas Intruder focuses on this white teenager who has inherited the South’s racial legacy and no matter what he does–even saving Lucas Beauchamp’s life–he has absolutely no chance of getting out of it.
I want to give some thought to the differences between the Chick Mallison/Lucas Beauchamp relationship in Intruder and the Lucius Priest/Ned McCaslin relationship in The Reivers. Just a thought.
Foote almost needs no commentary. I started out strong with volume 2 (I read volume 1 last year over the course of 5 or 6 weeks), but I was so emotionally exhausted by the chapter about Gettysburg (“The Stars in Their Courses,” which is also published as a standalone book) that for the most part I could only half-heartedly engage with the rest of the volume (other than a brief afternoon of riveting excitement as I read about Chickamauga). I wrote about Gettysburg a few weeks ago on its anniversary so I won’t tread that ground again here (although to be honest, I feel as if I will always be treading that ground) except to say that the battle has a profound and glorious and sad hold over me, and Foote’s account of it is masterfully crafted. I hope to pick the momentum back up through volume 3.
Last night after I got off the bus (the bus on which I finished Foote and Faulkner) I was locked out of my house, so I sat on the steps for awhile getting started with Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter, which was nice to read on the front porch on a hot July evening, even in Chicago. I like it, and whatever else I get out of it, I will probably spend some time mulling over how it compares and contrasts with Agee’s A Death in the Family, which I read earlier this year.