Sitting beside the road, watching the wagon mount the hill toward her, Lena thinks, ‘I have come from Alabama: a fur piece. All the way from Alabama a-walking. A fur piece.’ Thinking although I have not been quite a month on the road I am already in Mississippi, further from home than I have ever been before. I am now further from Doane’s Mill than I have been since I was twelve years old.
I'm reading William Faulkner's Light in August, and it is one of the best things I've read in a very long time. Faulkner is a giant, an immense writer of great power. If the world were a better and smarter place, people would forget about Cormac McCarthy and read Faulkner instead. McCarthy writes a lot like Faulkner, except that McCarthy lacks empathy and a broad vision. As I Lay Dying is 10,000 times better than The Road. That is a fair comparison, as both novels feature odysseys and take as one major theme the relationship of parents to their children during traumatic events, each book starting with a dead wife, to boot. I don't know why I'm having a go at poor Cormac. My own novel Cocke & Bull is quite Faulkneresque, and is also a wee little insignificant thing in the shadow of Faulkner's books. Which is perhaps the point of this short but rambling post. I've always admired Faulkner, but for the first time I've actually seen what he's doing, how well he's doing it, and how amazing it all is. Of course you can also see the influence of Chekhov in the works of Faulkner, that awareness of man's bafflement over his predicament, and the moral fog in which most of us stumble and fall.
The whiskey died away in time and was renewed and died again, but the street ran on. From that night the thousand streets ran as one street, with imperceptible corners and changes of scene, broken by intervals of begged and stolen rides, on trains and trucks, and on country wagons with he at twenty and twenty-five and thirty sitting on the seat with his still, hard face and the clothes (even when soiled and worn) of a city man and the driver of the wagon not knowing who or what the passenger was and not daring to ask. The street ran into Oklahoma and Missouri and as far south as Mexico and then back north to Chicago and Detroit and then back south again and at last to Mississippi. It was fifteen years long: it ran between the savage and spurious board fronts of oil towns where, his inevitable serge clothing and light shoes black with bottomless mud, he ate crude food from tin dishes that cost him ten and fifteen dollars a meal and paid for them with a roll of banknotes the size of a bullfrog and stained too with the rich mud that seemed as bottomless as the gold which it excreted. It ran through yellow wheat fields waving beneath the fierce yellow days of labor and hard sleep in haystacks beneath the cold mad moon of September, and the brittle stars: he was in turn laborer, miner, prospector, gambling tout; he enlisted in the army, served four months and deserted and was never caught. And always, sooner or later, the street ran through cities, through an identical and wellnigh interchangeable section of cities without remembered names, where beneath the dark and equivocal and symbolical archways of midnight he bedded with the women and paid them when he had the money, and when he did not have it he bedded anyway and then told them that he was a negro. For a while it worked; that was while he was still in the south. It was quite simple, quite easy. Usually all he risked was a cursing from the woman and the matron of the house, though now and then he was beaten unconscious by other patrons, to waken later in the street or in the jail.