A Life of William Faulkner
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Some fresh evidence but a conventional treatment of the Yoda of Yoknapatawpha County.

As the author graciously acknowledges, anyone who writes about Faulkner (1897–1962) must pay homage (and assign many endnote numbers) to Joseph Blotner, whose two-volume Faulkner: A Biography (1974) remains foundational. But 30 years have passed, and Parini (Robert Frost: A Life, 1999, etc.) is an important and gifted biographer, and Faulkner, as Parini realizes, was a man with “many thousands of selves.” Here, Parini deals with the dominant ones. The organization is traditional (one would think Faulkner might inspire in his biographer some convolution, some multiple points-of-view): strictly chronological, with later chapters arranged in a common pattern—Faulkner’s personal life, the composition of his most recent book, the responses of the contemporaneous reviewers (Clifton Fadiman attacked virtually the entire canon of the future Nobel laureate), and then Parini’s own exegesis, sometimes animated (sometimes larded) with the commentary of other scholars. Parini deals directly with Faulkner’s human weaknesses—his alcoholism, his marital infidelities with ever-younger women (Parini is much more critical than Blotner of Estelle Faulkner, the writer’s wife), and his racial attitudes. As Parini notes, Faulkner’s comments during the 1950s sound uncomfortable to northern (or, maybe, humane) ears; he concludes that the great writer simply could not rise above his place and time—although he was considered racially radical in Mississippi. We see Faulkner in Oxford, Hollywood, New York, Charlottesville, the world. Like his rival Hemingway, he lied about his war record. But he was an accomplished horseman (despite many grievous falls later in life), an amateur pilot, an eager sailor, a voracious reader of novels. Parini shows in bright relief the fierce discipline that enabled Faulkner to produce major works in a short time (As I Lay Dying he wrote in 47 days) and recognizes the progressively declining quality of his work.

Excellent portraits of Faulkner’s falls from various horses—and his determination, no matter how broken, to remount. (8 pp. b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 2004
ISBN: 0-06-621072-0
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2004


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