Last Update 9/26/19

The Hamlet by William Faulkner, Vintage, 1931   

The first book about the Snopes family is anecdotal and uneven. It consists of four sections that include the same basic cast of characters and interlocking stories, of which the middle two are the best. Part three was part of the inspiration for the movie, The Long Hot Summer. The Snopes family rises to prominence during Reconstruction but they are a product of their corrupt time. Some of their adventures verge on being comical although overall the tone is more that of a tragedy. Although originally a standalone novel, Faulkner later wrote two sequels. Parts of this were engrossing, others not so much. 9/26/19

The Wild Palms by William Faulkner, Signet, 1939    

Two of my favorite Faulkner novellas are joined here, although neither is particularly pleasant. In the first, the title story, a married woman and a medical student run off together and pursue their love affair, which is rather complex, but she eventually dies when he performs a botched abortion. The second involves a convict who is pressed into labor helping people during a terrible flood. He rescues a pregnant woman, but the two of them are swept away. She eventually has the baby and he voluntarily returns to serve out the rest of his sentence.  9/13/19

The Unvanquished by William Faulkner, Signet, 1938 

This is a collection of related stories set during and shortly after the Civil War. They involve the Sartoris family, who figure in other works by Faulkner. The stories are generally examples of wry humor with bits of adventure thrown into the mix. The best of them involve an elderly woman attempting to variously save and recover the family silver, which is stolen by Union soldiers. Enjoyable. 9/8/19

Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, Modern Library, 1936 

This is one of Faulknerís best novels, although once again it sometimes uses prose so dense that you need a flashlight to see your way through. Itís an historical novel, told mainly in flashbacks, about a slave owner who intends to establish a family dynasty, and does so after a fashion until the Civil War intervenes. That takes him away, obviously, and in the aftermath he tries to pull together his diminished resources. This is the best depiction of the slave holding culture that I have read. 8/28/19

Pylon by William Faulkner, Signet, 1935 

I found this episodic novel quite unusual for Faulkner, at least those I have read so far. It follows the adventures and troubles of a group of barnstormers, people who fly, maintain, or camp follow early aviators who competed at town fairs and elsewhere. It has some of his most interesting characters and the tone is generally much lighter than in most of his other books. The prose, however, remains quite dense and may be offputting at times. I couldnít read it straight through and spread it over five nights. But itís worth the effort. 8/20/19

Light in August by William Faulkner, Vintage, 1932 

One of Faulknerís best novels, although a bit of heavy slogging at times. One of the two protagonists is a man passing for white in the Deep South, but who believes himself to be of mixed blood. He is friends with a second man who fathered a child with a woman out of wedlock and who accuses the first man of a recent murder. The pregnant woman tries to intercede and prevent a lynching, but things get out of hand anyway. As usual, not a happy ending at all, and a dark picture of an element in American life that was not then and probably is not now as rare as we would like to believe. 8/11/19

Sanctuary by William Faulkner, Signet, 1931  

Iím rather surprised that such a brutal and sexually explicit story as this one was published and successful in 1931. A young woman with an alcoholic boyfriend falls into the clutches of a group of criminals, one of whom eventually makes her his sexual slave after raping her with an implement. She spends some time in a brothel and eventually perjures herself in a murder trial in order to convict an innocent man, who is subsequently lynched. There are several subsidiary stories circulating around the main one and none of them are particularly uplifting either. Definitely not a book to read to cheer you up, though it is a very powerful and engaging narrative. 7/30/19

A Daystar of Fear by Geoffrey Jenkins, 1993  

The authorís last published book probably explains why there are several still unpublished. It involves some villains who are trying to steal treasure from a sunken ship, and who have already murdered a man to cover their tracks from an earlier crime. But the characters just talk and talk. It takes almost thirty pages to retrieve a body floating in the water, and twice that much to provide details about how undersea salvage works and how this particular ship sunk, and by now weíre almost half way through the novel. 7/24/19

A Hive of Dead Men by Geoffrey Jenkins, Jenkins, 1991 

The discovery of a lost artifact is to be celebrated by a ceremony renewing a treaty between the UK and South Africa. A group of radical feminists Ė and boy are they ever caricatured Ė are determined to stop the ceremony which will somehow abrogate the treaty. They even steal the wax head of Horatio Nelson in London and turns it into a bomb at one point.  Jenkins seemed to drift farther and farther from reality in the later books, which might explain why several of them remain unpublished years after his death. This is really, really bad and gets worse as it goes along. 7/20/19

Hold Down a Shadow by Geoffrey Jenkins, Authorís Choice, 1989  

Terrible book by an author who should have known better. A terrorist plans to sabotage a dam in Lesotho and temporarily teams up with a gang of sometimes terrorist, sometimes just criminal bad guys who attempt to double cross him. They kidnap an international financier and demand a ransom, then booby trap a marvelous clock to trigger an explosion. The complexities of their plans are completely unnecessary and make no sense in context. The hero finds them through a series of coincidences and fantastic leaps of intuition. The priceless clock is stolen, even though the authorities know an attempt is planned, by a single man who walks into the exhibition hall with a military rifle concealed under his jacket. Appallingly badly plotted. 7/16/19

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, Vintage, 1930    

This novel reminds me a bit of Erskine Caldwell. The mother of a family is dying and her family builds a coffin and prepares to take her by wagon to be buried in her home town, several days travel away. The characters are all a bit odd and their reactions to the death are strange as well. A storm washes away several bridges, which makes the journey even more difficult, and they almost lose the coffin on two occasions. By the time they reach their destination the body is pretty ripe. This was not an uplifting story and the widower husband in particular is an unpleasant though skillfully created character. 7/13/19

In Harmís Way by Geoffrey Jenkins, Fontana, 1986 

A plan to create a new way to contain nuclear waste becomes the target of a terrorist group who sneak a bomb into the facility just before a demonstration. The inventor and his lover, a former terrorist of sorts, team up with a French intelligence officer, but the villains are quite competent and it looks like they wonít be able to stop them. There is a lot of time spent on technical matters, which is rather surprising since these are all imaginary, based on the existence of two fictional minerals. Lots of violence and a surprisingly large part of the story is told from the point of view of the villains. 7/9/19

Fireprint by Geoffrey Jenkins, Fontana, 1984 

 A British engineer is sent to take charge of an accident ridden drilling project in southernmost Africa. There are suspicious Russians and Americans in the vicinity and some of the accidents are clearly sabotage. Both of the other parties consist of spies and there is even a plan to set off a nuclear bomb in South Africa. The action scenes are well handled but the plot is something less than convincing this time. The Russians have a fake drilling platform that is actually a missile tracking station and all of the resources it distributes to other countries are secretly brought in by tankers, yet no one has noticed this even though the platform itself is the center of an international controversy?

 

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