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Not Reading Faulkner

by Lee Hancock


“Now I want you to tell me just one thing more. Why do you hate the South?” “I dont hate it,” Quentin said, quickly, at once, immediately; “I dont hate it,” he said. I dont hate it he thought, panting in the cold air, the iron New England dark: I dont. I dont! I dont hate it! I dont hate it! - Absalom, Absalom, by William Faulkner I have a secret, a failing I seldom admit in polite company: though born and reared in Oxford, Mississippi, I refused to read William Faulkner. I confess it: I shunned the work. Having left Mississippi, I avoided the family pew and altar call at the Church of Mr. Bill - until now. I told myself that Faulkner’s prose was too dark and daunting to be worth all that trouble. True, I dropped his name shamelessly, but distance from him and his little postage stamp of native soil suited me just fine. All those people he brought to life on the page weren’t too close to home in a manner of speaking; too many of them were flesh and blood I could call by name. His stories captured all I was born into and lived inside and fled, fatality and curse of the baffled living and unreconstructed dead. My gnarled family tree held enough Southern Gothic craziness, thank you. I didn’t need to beat literary bushes for more, even if said bushes burned and drawled the master’s prose. The few times I thumbed through Faulkner’s books, reconsidering self-imposed exile, his unending thickets of run-on sentences were as uninviting as the kudzu separating my childhood backyard from the red-clay gullies beyond. And where I’m from, kudzu is the plant that ate the South. Imported from Japan by a Philadelphia Yankee in the last year of Reconstruction, it was soon hailed as the answer to Southern erosion. As Faulkner hit his writing stride, conservation agents paid farmers across the South $8 an acre to plant it on worn-out land - serious money in the Depression. By the time the Mississippi writer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, the primordial green monster engulfed telephone poles and railroad right-of-ways and Civil War battlefields from Chickamauga to Vicksburg. Kudzu’s leaves and vines have itchy hairs that grab and strangle everything in their path. Every July, its purple flowers bust out looking like trailer-park wisteria and reeking like grape bubblegum left too long in the sun. It is nearly impossible to control, much less kill. By the time I was born in 1959, it didn’t just dominate North Mississippi’s rural landscape. It was the landscape....

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by Lee Hancock
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