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That’s A Little Better, Will


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William Faulkner – Three Famous Short Novels – Old Man


This is where Cormac McCarthy must have gotten his inspiration for apocalyptic storylines, salted with social injustice. The storyline, quickly:

A convict, one of a chain gang caught up in a flood in Mississippi in the 1920s, is sent into the wild river on a mission, but he doesn’t return. In fact, he manages an escape, along with a pregnant woman. The woman has her child, and the trio journey down the river to Louisiana and what promises to be a relatively normal life. There's a bit of mutual admiration here, but the convict doesn’t end up with the woman. Instead, he heads back upstream to the prison site and turns himself in. For his effort, he’s given ten more years on the sentence.  Hence Faulkner’s view of legal justice: "…blind instruments not of equity but of all human outrage and vengeance, acting in savage personal concert . . . which certainly abrogated justice and possibly even law."

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The near-purple prose Faulkner herded into print with Spotted Horses came more under control here. And with good reason; from everything I’ve found, Old Man followed Spotted Horses, so he had indeed sharpened his prose skills. He dwells overlong on the initial part of the convict’s river voyage, but I think he was writing to create certain effects. In that passage, he seemed to want to disorient the reader, along with the convict. Later, he goes interminably from river flotsam to jetsam, from near death experience to moments of respite, to allow the reader to experience the trek emotionally but perhaps subliminally.


My rating: 17 of 20 stars