Re: RARA-AVIS: Hammett and... Henry James

From: Patrick King (
Date: 21 Nov 2007

--- jacquesdebierue <> wrote:
> So maybe the hardboiled boys weren't as good as
> Faulkner, but their
> effect was enormous. Well, OK, none of them was as
> good as Faulkner.
*************************************************** To a large extent, Faulkner WAS a hardboiled boy. He wrote the script for Hawk's THE BIG SLEEP and several others. INTRUDER IN THE DUST was a very crdible answer to Perry Mason and precursor to TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. SANCTUARY was as lurid a tale as any Cain or Thompson told, if a lot more complicated in the telling. So was THE SOUND AND THE FURY, very comparable to Cain's THE BUTTERFLY. The real difference between Faulkner and the hardboiled boys was ambition. The hardboiled boys were happy to find a lurid tale and tell it in such a way that an awful lot of people were willing to spend their twenty-five cents to read it. Faulkner was making the same twenty-five cents on his reprints, but the complexities of his writing style made his books less accessible to an impatient public. Fortunately for him, Faulkner enjoyed an academic following comparable later to that of Kurt Vonnegut or musically to Bob Dylan. You just weren't hip in colleges of the 1940s & 50s if you didn't dig Faulkner. His poetic use of sounds, images, and time are both beautiful and thought provoking. But his iconoclastic use of language was not appreciated by everyone. Hemingway called THE SOUND AND THE FURY "drunk writing," and if anyone would know, Hemingway would. Unquestionably, as did virtually all his contemporaries, Faulkner suffered greatly from alcoholism. This problem may have gotten tangled in his writing. His stature among academics & critics may have prevented his editors (I think it was Max Perkins, just like Fitzgerald, Hemingway & Steinbeck) from paring back some of the less comprehansible paragraphs. There are some sentences by Faulkner that defy parsing, in English, anyway. Winning the Nobel Prize put him beyond criticism. I think of all the great writers of the 20th Century, Faulkner is the hardest sell to a young audience, today. Frankly, neither Fitzgerald nor Hemingway ever had a story to tell as original, as dark, or as well-plotted as any of Faulkner's, but your brain has to chip around the complexities of his voice to figure out what the hell he's talking about. Personally, I find the first part of THE SOUND & THE FURY, told from the point of view of a retarded man, a very ambitious and brilliant effort, particularly when you understand where the story's going. I'm glad he didn't keep the device up for the rest of the book, though.

In my personal opinion, I think a writer who uses language to get his story across plainly, and has a story that resonates with readers, is preferable to one who's language is so peculiar the reader notices the language before they hear the story its telling. Probably Faulkner's most successful protege, or acolyte, anyway, is the American writer, Joyce Carol Oates. She's even more prolific than Faulkner was, and while her output is uneven in my opinion, her novels like WONDERLAND, WE WERE THE MULVANEYS, and MIDDLEAGE are as good as anyone's writing at present. Very
"noir" too. Oats may be the ultimate female "noir" writer.

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