Genre: modernist, southern gothic, classic lit, american lit
Setting: rural Mississippi, 1930s
There are some books that leave a distinct mark, and boy is this one of them. William Faulkner’s novel Light in August contains a cast of characters who collectively span the full spectrum of social outcasts. Anyone who loves brutally honest social commentary on American society should pick up this book and devour it.
The good: When I started reading this book I was not prepared for the emotional impact it would end up having. Despite how much I read, I somehow went into this novel knowing the bare minimum about Faulkner as a writer. The book maintains a startling amount of relevance regarding its treatment of racial tensions and crises of identity considering it was written around 85 years ago. Any novel that can continue to draw that kind of visceral emotional response 85 years down the line is an excellent piece of writing in my opinion. Each of the characters that the novel focuses on is marginalized in some way by the society they operate within. America is still a Puritanical society to a large extent so the story and the characters resonate deeply. I think that absolutely everyone should read this book and that is a very rare thing for me to say.
The bad: I have no real criticisms of this book, so for this review I am going to use this section as a warning to the reader. When you read Light in August, prepare to get uncomfortable. It is difficult to read about violence so bluntly described and stated. The casual observations of the lives of these characters seems almost voyeuristic, and there may be times where you wonder “What am I doing here?” I promise it will all come together for you. There are no heroes in this novel, only very real, very hurt people. And get ready for some heavy self-examination by the end. It isn’t going to be a book you can just read and then forget. You come out of reading this forced to face some ugly truths about society, or perhaps about yourself. If you like easy reading without any intellectual or emotional challenges, do not expect that here.