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3.7 out of 5 stars11
3.7 out of 5 stars
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... the "owner" of which was a man who said "mister" to whites, but did not really mean it. The meal was served to 12 year old Charles Mallison, after he had fallen in an icy pond, and the server, who didn't mean mister, was Lucas Beauchamp. Four years later the "bill" for those collard greens would come due, and it would be Mallison's actions that would save Beauchamp's life. "Intruder in the Dust" is one of Faulkner's later works, written just after World War II. The perennial themes of his works are exhibited: his examination of life in barely fictional Yoknapatawpha County, whose county seat is Jefferson, (Oxford, MS) and the continued fall-out from America's "original sin," slavery. From Faulkner's majestically southern mansion of Rowan Oaks, he wrote in fear of the "white trash" that surrounded him, so often identified as the Snopes family, but in this novel they are transformed into the Gowries, from "Beat Four." Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness style always challenges the reader to stay engaged, or a vital clue to the story will be missed. And like those slower internet connections, he "backs and fills" his pixels, slowly revealing the entire story. This is also an excellent "mystery" novel; the particular situations involving the grave seem "impossible," but Faulkner makes it all so understandable, masterfully so, in the fullness of time. Faulkner is certainly not for the "fun read" crowd, nor, apparently, based on the reviews posted here, for sophomores in "Advanced Placement" English. I shutter at the thought of how many students have become confirmed non-readers of serious books for the rest of their lives as a result of such classes.

I am an immense fan of Faulkner, and still hope to read or re-read all his works. This time it was a re-read, after 35 or so years, and fortunately, even the first time was not a dreaded school assignment. There remain the wonderful, original descriptive passages that contain nuggets like: "...and forlorn across the long peaceful creep of late afternoon, into the mauve windless dome of dusk..." and "...if there were only some way to efface the clumsy room-devouring carcasses which can be done but the memory which cannot." But on the re-read I noticed Faulkner's "feet of clay." In referring to a patched roof, how much meaning is conveyed by "insolent promptitude," or a lathe's "ineluctable shaft," or "incredulous disbelief"?

But the real "feet of clay" are political, and there is a three page defense of the South's "go slow" policy for granting Blacks equal rights. The passage doesn't work in a literary sense, in that it plops, "cut and pasted," interrupting the dramatic tension of an enthralling mystery. Consider: "...only we (meaning white Southerners) must do it, and we alone without help or interference or even (thank you) advice since only we can if Lucas's equality is to be anything more than its own prisoner inside an impregnable barricade of the direct heirs of the victory of 1861-1865..." James Baldwin, in Nobody Knows My Name in his chapter entitled "Faulkner and Desegregation," offers the seminal critique of such an attitude: "After more than two hundred years in slavery and ninety years of quasi-freedom, it is hard to think very highly of William Faulkner's advice to `go slow.' `They don't mean go slow,' Thurgood Marshall is reported to have said, `they mean don't go.'"

Upon the re-read I was also struck by how derivative Harper Lee's classic book, To Kill A Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary edition is, down to the two different men, both sitting in the doorway of the jailhouse, to prevent a lynching, as well as even the mockingbird! It is a point another reviewer made, but I had never realized it before, nor seen it in a critique of Lee's work.

Faulkner may be most associated with black-white relations, but he also has something to say about male-female relations. Consider: "...just enough dirt to hide the body temporarily from sight with something of that frantic desperation of the wife flinging her peignoir over the lover's forgotten glove..." or "I am fifty-plus years old,' his uncle said. `I spent the middle fifteen of them fumbling beneath skirts. My experience was that few of them were interested in love or sex either. They wanted to be married.'"

It pains me to knock a star from a Nobel-prize winning "idol," but the "feet of clay" are most certainly there.

(Note: Review first published at Amazon, USA, on November 22, 2009)
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on 10 October 2008
This novel is, in form, a thriller with a classic thriller plot- the fight to prove the innocence of a man accused of a crime he did not commit. (Alfred Hitchcock used this plot in a number of his films, and "Intruder in the Dust" was itself made into a very good film by Clarence Brown in 1949, only a year after its publication). Faulkner takes this basic plot and uses it to explore the problem of racism in America's Deep South; Harper Lee was later to take a similar plot, and use it for a similar purpose, in "To Kill a Mockingbird".

The book is set in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County and its capital, Jefferson, based upon the real Lafayette County and Faulkner's own home town of Oxford. The innocent man wrongly accused is Lucas Beauchamp, an elderly, widowed black farmer. Although Beauchamp is honest and respectable, he is resented by many whites because he refuses to "behave like a nigger", that is to say behave in a servile manner. When a white man named Vinson Gowrie is shot dead, Beauchamp is accused of the crime. Gowrie was from Beat Four, a wild, hilly district of the county, whose white inhabitants are noted for their lawless ways and their ingrained prejudices against blacks. A mob, mostly members of Gowrie's extended family, gathers in Jefferson, threatening to break into the jail and lynch Beauchamp.

The story is told through the eyes of Charles Mallison, the sixteen-year-old nephew of Gavin Stevens, the relatively liberal white lawyer who acts for Beauchamp. Charles, who regards himself as being in Beauchamp's debt ever since, four years earlier, the old man rescued him after he fell in a stream, sets out to prove that Beauchamp did not fire the fatal shot. Together with his black friend Aleck and Miss Habersham, an elderly spinster (did Faulkner derive her name from Dickens' Miss Havisham?) he makes the dangerous body to Beat Four to exhume the body of the murdered man- and makes a surprising discovery.

Racial issues play an important part in Faulkner's work; indeed, it would probably be difficult for any Southern writer to avoid them altogether. His own views on the topic, however, seem to have been rather mixed. On the one hand he was an anti-racist, regarding the intolerant prejudice of many white Southerners as an affront to both decency and rationality. On the other hand, he was himself a proud Southerner, conscious of his family's Confederate heritage; his great-grandfather, Colonel William Falkner (thus spelt), had been a Confederate hero in the Civil War. In this novel Faulkner himself seems to adopt what might be called a neo-Confederate position, believing that, if the South could not be an independent, sovereign state it should at least form a culturally autonomous unit within the USA and have the right to deal with its own problems without interference from the North. He devotes several pages of the novel to his thesis that attempts by outsiders to combat racism in the south had actually been counter-productive and that black Southerners would never achieve equality until white Southerners were allowed to address the issue on their own terms.

The novel was written in the late forties, before the rise of the Civil Rights movement, and I think that Faulkner was wrong about race. The large-scale exodus of rural Southern blacks to Northern industrial cities in the first half of the twentieth century meant that race relations could no longer (if indeed they ever could) be thought of as solely a Southern issue. Since 1948 race relations in America have seen an immense change for the better; as I write this in October 2008 it seems quite likely that next month Barack Obama will not only be elected America's first black President but will also carry several Southern states. This change would not have been possible without the Civil Rights movement and the active involvement of Northerners, both black and white, and of the institutions of the Federal government.

Despite my disagreements with him, I nevertheless found Faulkner's analysis of the South's racial problems a stimulating and thought-provoking one. The characters are, for the most part, memorable and powerfully drawn. I did not, however, altogether enjoy this book, largely because of the eccentricities of the prose style that the author adopts here, a prose style characterised by long, rambling (and often syntactically disorganised) sentences, sometimes extending over several pages. He also has a weakness for obscure vocabulary items.

Faulkner was, presumably, aiming at the sort of stream-of-consciousness effect he had used to good effect in other, better, novels, such as "As I Lay Dying". This style can be a valuable tool for showing us the world through the eyes of a fictional character or, in the case of "As I Lay Dying" which uses first-person multiple-narrator technique, through the eyes of a string of different characters. When stream-of-consciousness is used to represent the writer's own authorial voice, it becomes much less effective. "Intruder in the Dust" is a third-person narrative, and, although Charles is the central character, we are not always certain if it is his voice we are hearing, or the author's. As a result of this confusion, and of his often impenetrable syntax, the author's train of thought is in places difficult to follow, which means that, despite its interesting themes, "Intruder in the Dust" is not as effective a book as it could have been.
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on 5 September 2014
The problem here, as another critic on the page has noted, is that the strained, cod-poetic, stream-of-consciousness style is inappropriate to the knockabout comedy-thriller capers of the plot - unlikely people gallivanting up and down moonlit country lanes to disinter bodies in rural graveyards, etc. Would you have got James Joyce to script a Disney movie? Nah. Chuck in a protracted denouement of baffling complexity involving characters to whom we are never properly introduced and an excess of extraneous flowery musing (cf. the start of Chapter 10), and you have something that falls between too many stools for comfort. In short, a serious theme is let down by a silly plot and the author's tendency to play the Modernist man of letters with prose. But: "... his uncle said that all a man had was time, all that stood between him and the death he feared and abhorred was time yet he spent half of it inventing ways of getting the other half past." Yep, that's you and me and Lucas Beauchamp and damned near everyone, folks, dang nam it!
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on 23 February 2014
Written over a three-month period, this novel proved to be a successful one for Faulkner due to the sale of the film rights. And it’s not difficult to see why Hollywood was attracted to its largely chronological narrative and thriller-like scenario. The set-up is stated in the first sentence: Lucas Beauchamp has killed a white man. Because a racial designation is used, we know from the off that Lucas is black, and the prospect of a lynching is a very real one. However, this being Faulkner, who frequently uses crimes as key plot elements, the novel is less a whodunit than a what-happened and why. Several of Faulkner’s recurrent concerns are here – race, prejudice, hypocrisy, justice – as are several of his stylistic signatures – labyrinthine sentences, for example. To some extent the book is a good place to start if you are new to Faulkner, it being a less demanding read than some of his other works. That said, the book is not among Faulkner’s best. At times he seems to be striving for effect; his usual understated handling of social and cultural themes has deserted him, and he deals with ‘the race issue’ in a rather didactic manner, using the lawyer Gavin Stevens as the mouthpiece for a certain world-view; there is even a tone of grumpiness about 1940s consumerism. But this is Faulkner, and even when not as his best he is still worth reading.
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on 23 November 2011
William Faulkner seems to be one of those writers that you can either get on with or you can't. Unfortunately in my case I fall into the category of 'can't'. This is the second Faulkner book I have begun and abandoned halfway through, the other being The Sound and the Fury.

Intruder in the Dust was an excellent idea for a book; a black man living in the Southern US is wrongfully accused of murdering a local white man. A white boy, who owes the accused his life, sets out to prove his innocence. Sounds pretty exciting doesn't it? It isn't.

Another reviewer described this book as a 'thriller' I couldn't disagree more, thrillers are supposed to be exciting aren't they? I managed to reach page 140 before giving up and nothing much happened in those pages, at least that I could understand.

Faulkner has a unique style of writing which is truly his own. I thought Hemingway was challenging to read until I picked up this book. To begin with Faulkner had something against punctuation, this much is painfully obvious. Apparently he had a particularly seething hated for commas as is evident when you can read entire paragraphs and not see a single one. It must be a nightmare to read out loud. The book was difficult to read for other reasons too; the storyline is clouded, characters are not fleshed out, dialogue between characters is confusing and often pretty meaningless. The story itself plods along at a pace that I can only describe as agonisingly slow.

It is not all bad though, it is as plain as day that the South has a history worthy of shame for the way they treated black people and the ugliness of segregation and hatred is evident on practically every page which makes it an ugly, heavy book to read. Ugly and heavy isn't usually my cup of tea but if it had only been written in a manner that was a little easier to get through I'm sure I could have appreciated it.

I have come away with a newfound admiration for people who can read Faulker and love it. He is definately one of the most challenging writers you can come across.
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on 26 February 2016
Quite difficult to read, but the work of entering into the central character's mind is repaid.
The plot, while at times gripping, is secondary to the atmosphere of the hot ( and heated ) South.
A book to recall and revisit.
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on 16 February 2007
We are in the South, in a rural city and area. A crime is committed, a white man is shot dead and an old black man is arrested for it on Saturday night, red-handed, because he was next to the dead shot body with a gun in his pocket. This black man has had a past of refusing samboism. He always behaved in a non standard way for a black man in the South. No question is asked. A lawyer is called by the black man and the lawyer does not ask questions and assumes the black man is guilty of the crime he is accused of committing. It will take a white teenager (16 and the lawyer's nephew), a black teenager (his friend) and a white older lady with a truck to accept to go and explore the grave of the dead man on the request of the black man.

They find out the man in the grave is not the man it should be, but is another assassinated white man. And then the plot thickens tremendously because these three people plus the lawyer will manage to take over and convince the sheriff to go investigate this tomb with them. The father and two sons of the victim have been summoned by the sheriff. The two sons will dig out the grave and find it empty. Then they all manage to find the body the teenagers and the woman had found more or less carelessly hidden in some sand and the body of the first assassinated person in a patch of quicksand. The black man is definitely saved.

The criminal will be found out to be a fourth son of the old man, a brother of the victim himself because the murdering brother was cheating some wood out of a forest patch that was being cut down and sawn into boards to be sold later on, at a profit of course, from the assassinated brother with an accomplice, the second man who was killed two days later and hidden in the assassinated brother's tomb. This murdering brother will be forced to commit suicide in jail for the white community not to have a trial, not to have to hang a white man for the killing of two white men while at first a black man had been accused and had by pure chance escaped a lynching. But the book is interesting for a lot more than this murder plot.

It is no thriller because we nearly know from the very start that the lynching will not happen. The interest of the book is in the narrator who looks at the situation and events through the sole eyes of the lawyer's nephew that is always referred to as "he", third person singular, and never with a name. This awkward narration creates a distanciation in the fictional voyeurism of the book that kind of keeps us active and alert. The second interest is in the long speeches and explanations the lawyer delivers to his nephew in order to initiate him to adulthood.

The discourse is a general speculation about racism, samboism, the liberation of black people or rather of the South from this samboism and racism, how it can only happen from inside and not from outside, the reaction of the whites in front of this accused black and the possibility or impossibility of a lynching, etc. It is a close examination of the racial conscience of the South, and not only the whites, but also the blacks. The third interest is in the initiation of this young teenager that goes far beyond only understanding the southern mind, the southern past and future, the southern race relations and how to free them from the heritage of slavery and the end of it imposed from outside.

It has to do with physical growing and even the sexual or emotional levels of that growing, how some sexual emotion can appear in the strangest of all situations and distort the teenager's vision for a while. Finally it also depicts the complexity and beauty, contradictory confusion and clarity of their mentality and consciousness, or unconsciousness. Faulkner has it all wrong as for how the liberation of the blacks will come, but it does not matter : it represents the vision the whites had at a certain moment in history, in fact between the two world wars.

He could not take into account the consequences of WW2 on the mental liberation of the black community and particularly the weight and power northern blacks will find in the war that will make them go down South, if necessary and with white people too eventually, to help their black brothers down South to get on the road to civil liberties. But it is this very historical limitation that makes the novel all the more interesting.

Dr Jacques COULARDEAU, University of Paris Dauphine & University of Paris 1 Pantheon Sorbonne
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on 14 October 2015
Astonishing book, classic Faulkner but underpinned by a page-turner plot. His ruminations on the scars left by the civil war and historical debts remain as relevant as ever.
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on 19 June 2009
Faulkner is a great writer, and a unique one to describe the inner flow of thought and conscience.
Faulkner probably planned this novel to express his view on slavery and Southern USA society, and indeed some of his points of view about black people are outdated and even insulting, although well intended, and this is a minor problem here. Besides, he probably wanted to express his confidence in the new generations of young white people and women (after all, he wrote the novel in the 50's) and pay homage to the resilience of southern blacks.
But as other reviewers have pointed out, that technique or literary resource is wasted here. The plot is a bit of a thriller and a bit of a crime novel, and that's what makes this a cranky novel when you add the typical Faulknerian style: the inner flow is not apt for this theme. This novel could have been a good script for a drama motion picture, and indeed has good moments and findings, but all in all, you get intagled with the writer / the main character / the uncle... and lose track with the plot. There are many resemblances with the film "To kill a mockingbird". But that doesn't make it work better.
All together, not a bad read, but Faulkner has much greater novels. Well, at least this has a happy ending, and doesn't blow in your face truculently.
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on 29 November 2011
The main story in this novel involves a black man called Lucas Beauchamp who is wrongly accused of the murder of a white man. The story is told through the eyes of Charles Mallison, a sixteen-year-old who Beauchamp rescued from drowning four years earlier. Charles sets out to prove that Beauchamp did not fire the fatal shot and must prove this before a mob breaks into the jail-house and lynches Beauchamp. Together with his friend Aleck and Miss Habersham, an elderly spinster they go on a mission to exhume the body of the murdered man- and make an unexpected discovery.

The above sounds like the plot of a thriller and indeed there are thrilling almost noir-ish elements which Faulkner uses to explore race relations in the south (and boy does Faulkner sometimes bash his message on the heads of the reader.)

This was my first Faulkner novel and it was not nearly as difficult as I imagined it would be, I struggled far more with reading Sam Bellow than I did with this one. Yes the writing is unusual (stream of consciousness involving page long sentences for a start) but I was able to easily let myself flow with the prose and see where it took me.

I enjoyed lots about this novel, the plot is a great one, the characters well drawn and the sense of the South as a place and culture are very prominent. While this is not considered to be Faulkner's best (and I didn't particularly like some of the preachy aspects in this novel) I look forward to reading more of his work.
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