Light in August may be William Faulkner’s most accessible novel. Depending on your opinions of his body of work, that may say very little. It is still filled to the brim with stream-of-consciousness style diatribes, but it isn’t as complicated and mind-splitting as The Sound and the Fury. There are multiple perspectives taken into account, but nothing nearing the complications of 15 distinct narrators found in As I Lay Dying. Light in August offers Faulkner’s least fractured, easiest to comprehend narrative, and yet, as I closed the last few pages, I felt more weight pressing down on me, that what I had just finished reading was some how more significant than any Faulkner book I read before.
In many ways, I see Faulkner as a master satirist, and he is in peek form in Light in August. Most will tell you Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is the ultimate commentary on post-cvil war race relations (and I would be inclined to agree) but I would challenge anyone to read Light in August to reconsider their position on the matter. But where Mark Twain used humor to shed light on a nasty truth about American culture (its entrenched racism) Faulkner uses a degree of absurdism that has most sensible readers questioning just how much of the absurdism is rooted in the reality of that period.
For instance, there is a scene in which an African American man is being interrogated by a local sherif regarding a murder.. The sheriff has one of his deputies beating the man with a strap after each question. The black man constantly answers that he doesn’t know about the situation being asked about. “I reckon you ain’t tried hard enough to remember,” the sherif tells him at one point, and has him beat again. After a few cycles of this, another law enforcement officer steps in and says he reckons the black man is telling the truth, and perhaps they could stop beating him since they know now he’s telling the truth.
Light in August is filled with these types of moments, ranging from on-the-nose to tongue-in-cheek moments that will have most sensible readers scratching their heads and asking, why? Or how could this be happening in this book? Or better yet, why is this maybe happening somewhere right now?