Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
Veteran novelist and biographer Parini (Robert Frost; The Last Station) crafts a thorough account of the Nobel laureate's life (1897-1962), pausing with the publication of each book to reprise its plot and critical reception, and add his own evaluation of its merits. This is a reasonable approach, which benefits from the insights of such literary figures as Robert Penn Warren and Cleanth Brooks, whom Parini interviewed before their deaths. But there isn't any startling new material to supersede Joseph Blotner's massive 1974 biography, though Parini strains to be up-to-date by emphasizing Faulkner's friendships with gay men and his fiction's homoerotic elements (unquestionably present, but hardly worth the amount of attention they receive here), as well as considering feminist assessments of the writer's female characters. His solid account makes it clear that once Faulkner established himself as a major American author, he basically did two things: write and drink. The clumsy prose ("It was with some relief, for her, that nothing came of her husband's efforts"), surprising from such a distinguished literary man as Parini, does not increase the book's readability. There's no question, however, about this biographer's admiration for his subject. Newcomers will find all the basic facts about a great American writer and his work, but Faulkner remains, as Parini acknowledges, a "mystery [that] cannot be `solved.' " (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
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) Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.
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