So I walked into the Kelowna branch of the Okanagan Library and mused at the number of books to pick and choose from. I don’t know, but I had been thinking about Faulkner, and so I climbed the stairs straight to the fiction section, and found a Faulkner I had never read. Why him? Why now?
Turns out I had to read the whole thing before I could answer these questions, but I didn’t have to read very far to have an inkling of understanding. In Light in August, we follow characters as they travel on roads unseen with something of an open heart. They do not carry the weight of expectations, thus they are never disappointed. They travel, sometimes in borrowed shoes, to places they don’t know exist.
This freedom of movement clashes with the hard-rock immobility of some characters who refuse to unshackle their invisible chains even when the chains get tighter and the going gets rough, if not unbearable. Hightower, the retired minister, refuses to leave Jefferson even though the town despises him and there is nothing left for him there; the slave cook refuses to leave even when she is given her freedom without struggle.
What was I looking for in turning to Faulkner? I have found easy breezy migrations that, although physically hard and unthinkable (walking from Alabama to Jefferson, pregnant? really?), seem light and natural. How is that? Purpose and lack of expectations seem to be the recipe. Characters that have a purpose, a calling, - Krishna would call it a dharma, - yet manage to let go of expectations, meet every new turn without judgment. If you don’t see them expressing happiness or exhilaration, you never see them showing signs of despair or disappointment either. Lena travels alone and pregnant. She appears serene no matter what happens, because she knows that she is following her dharma and she can take comfort in that. At first, I thought her a fool, a poor little foolish sheep in need of a reality check, but by the end I understood that she was the happiest of them all, and perhaps the wisest as well. As such, Faulkner puts the last line in her mouth: “My, my. A body does get around.”
So I’m content to say that, even though I didn’t know why I wanted to read Faulkner, I have found in Light in August some answers to questions I didn’t know I needed answered. How is that for shedding expectations? Perhaps there is something to be said in favour of doing things that we can’t justify or have reason to do. Perhaps we can learn from doing things for no apparent reason. Perhaps we can all learn something from little fools.