Faulkner’s last novel is a coming-of-age story told as a ‘reminiscence’ by a grandfather to his grandson. He tells the story of his own corruption, of succumbing to ‘non-Virtue,’ which concurs with his first steps towards becoming a gentleman. When Lucius’s parents were called out of state for a funeral, leaving him, Boon Hogganbeck, Ned McCaslin, and Lucius’s Grandfather’s new car unsupervised, Lucius quickly devises a series of lies which allow him and Boon to leave town for Memphis largely unsuspected. Ned stows away. They travel through the 1905 Mississippi countryside to Memphis, where Lucius is thrown into the full-grown corruption of the big city. Boon’s object in taking the trip was a visit to a brothel.
Ned quickly trades Lucius’s grandfather’s car for a racehorse, and the three become involved in a series of fights, deceits, and gambling. (This is the funniest Faulkner novel I’ve read, although most of the members of the book group thought that was a meaningless superlative, since we were comparing it to As I Lay Dying and Go Down Moses. ) In the end, Lucius must face his sins, and this difficulty, how to live with one’s own bad acts, is the main subject of the novel. The acts cannot be forgotten, for to forget them would mean they were wasted.
They cannot be remedied or made to go away through punishment, either. They cannot be simply forgiven. To live with one’s bad acts makes you a gentleman. (Following is the climactic scene at the end of the novel, so if you are actually going to read it, I would strongly encourage you to read no further, since it is so much more poignant after the whole book and may seem just overwrought and didactic out of context… ).
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