Give the author the tragic sense of Classic drama, roll him in the modern expansion of the craft of fiction, create a world which can contain all the great themes of literature, give the author a strong sense of language and you might approximate the strength of William Faulkner: Aeschylus, Woolf, Hardy, Joyce in one author. But when you add the intense sense of history and the deep understanding of the South, you have a truly excellent writer and a truly excellent, albeit demanding, read.
Most of Faulkner’s work is well worth reading and many works are enhanced by repeated reading both to absorb the great complexity of the writing and also to discover the unique strength and vividness of the writing. My one complaint about Faulkner: he makes most other authors seem silly and frivolous.
Absalom, Absalom!, which I now consider superior to the earlier The Sound and the Fury, is a simple Classic narrative told in a complex way and transferred from the Classic Age of Greece and Rome to the Gothic South in the America of the 19th century. Certainly Absalom, Absalom! benefits from being a part of the mythical Yoknapatawpha County, the geography and the many characters that the author uses in many of his novels, and as such, the full value of a single novel may not be complete without having read several other novels. It can also be argued that Faulkner’s novels and stories can be read as independent works and other than when there is a strict grouping, like the Trilogy, reoccurring characters, shared events, common locales, are added spice but not vital to understanding and appreciating the novel in question.
This is what the publishers says about Absalom, Absalom!:
Absalom, Absalom! is Faulkner’s major work—his most important and ambitious contribution to American literature. In the dramatic texture of this story of the founding, flourishing and decay of the plantation of Sutpen’s Hundred, and of the family that demonic Stephen Sutpen brought into the world a generation before the Civil War, there rises the lament of the South for its own vanished splendor. From its magnificent and bold inception, when with his wild Negroes the founder of the great plantation appeared out of nowhere to seize his hundred square miles of land and build his mansion,through the destruction of the Civil War and its aftermath, and the drab beginnings of the new South, the narrative is colored by the author’s glowing imagery, his command of a powerful and magical prose style. Beneath its brilliant surface and dark undercurrents, the novel sweeps backward and forward through time. The story in all its ramifications becomes crystallized in the mind of a relative of this strange family, young Quentin Compson, a Harvard student. At the terrifying and abrupt end of the tale there remain in the crumbling shell of the old house only the dying son of its builder, an ancient Negro woman who have been his slave, and the idiot mulatto youth who was to be the only direct descendant of the Sutpen blood.
Faulkner is a challenging read requiring a mature, disciplined, and energetic approach to reading (and rereading). You’ve read all those Steinbeck novels and the Hemingway stories, not to forget Fitzgerald and his one good novel, but now it’s time to grow up and read at the big table. Ever wonder why Faulkner is seldom assigned-reading in the public schools and often is not read until the gray cells are a little more disciplined in college? Grab a novel like Absalom, Absalom! and the answer should be obvious.