It was now September. The cotton was open and spilling into the fields; the very air smelled of it. In field after field as he passed along the pickers, arrested in stooping attitudes, seemed fixed amid the constant surf of bursting bolls like piles in surf, the long, partly-filled sacks streaming away behind them like rigid frozen flags. The air was hot, vivid and breathless--a final fierce concentration of the doomed and dying summer.First Edition of The Hamlet published in 1940
Will Varner owned pretty much everything worth owning in the hamlet of Frenchman's Bend creating a certain amount of order and consistency in the lives of all the inhabitants. There was no middle class to speak of. That concept really didn't get invented until after World War Two and it certainly didn't filter down to all of rural America until much later. Basically everyone is poor, but everyone seems to have what they need. I had read a couple of hundred pages before it really sunk in that... this is a comedy.
This is the first book of the trilogy about the Snopes family followed by [b:The Town: A Novel of the Snopes Family|10985|The Town A Novel of the Snopes Family|William Faulkner|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320546481s/10985.jpg|13567]and [b:The Mansion|863338|The Mansion|William Faulkner|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1320546476s/863338.jpg|3127503]. Some of you may remember a Star Trek episode titled The Trouble with Tribbles
well in Frenchman's Bend The Trouble is with Snopes. Trouble with Tribbles
Once Will's son Jody Varner makes the decision to bring in Ab Snopes the tribbles start to accumulate. He hires Ab's son Flem to come work at the Varner store and before long Flem has taken over Jody's job. The problem with Snopes is they can give you the impression that you are smarter than they are, but as the novel progresses we find out that their diligence and shrewdness make even the "smartest" man in the county, V. K. Ratliff, just another rube for one of their schemes.
The Snopes are not talkers. They do their business with a minimum amount of interaction. The more someone else talks the more he reveals about his business. Now Flem is the smartest and craftest of the the bunch and even his own family are pawns to make himself more money or even in one case keep himself out of jail. He is very careful with his business and doesn't trust anyone. "The first man that Flem would tell his business to would be the man that was left after the last man died. Flem Snopes dont even tell himself what he is up to. Not if he was laying in bed with himself in a empty house in the dark of the moon."
Now there is lust in the novel, some might even call it love. Ike Snopes falls in love with his neighbor's milk cow and finds himself compromised on more than one occasion expressing his love. Eula Varner, the youngest daughter of Will, causes a sensation through the male population of Frenchman's Bend as her curves make men do crazy things. Even the school teacher finds himself enamored with Eula way beyond any sensible level. He stayed for the privilege of waiting until the final class was dismissed and the room was empty so that he could rise and walk with is calm damned face to the bench and lay his hand on the wooden plank still warm from the impact of her sitting or even knell and lay his face to the plank, wallowing his face against it, embracing the hard unsentient wood, until the heat was gone. He was mad. He knew it."
Mink Snopes is returning home. He has just performed a dastardly deed and he has a moment where he sees his life maybe a bit too clearly. It also provided Faulkner with an opportunity to make a point about the way these people live. "He emerged from the bottom and looked up the slope of his meagre and sorry corn and saw it--the paintless two-room cabin with an open hallway between and a leanto kitchen, which was not his, on which he paid rent but not taxes, paying almost as much in rent in one year as the house had cost to build; not old, yet the roof of which already leaked and the weather-stripping had already begun to rot away from the wall planks and which was just like the one he had been born in which had not belonged to his father either,and just like the one he would die in if he died indoors.
We are talking about generational poverty that will sholy take a miracle of some unprecedented level to ever break anyone out of.
Now V.I. Ratliff is the philosopher behind the scenes of everything that happens in Frenchman's Bend. He sells sewing machines for a living and is considered by many to be the only possible foil against the encroaching influence of the Tribbles/Snopes infestation. He is asked by his friend Bookwright if he returned some money to the Armstid wife that Flem liberated from her during the famous Spotted Horse Auction. "I could have, he said. But I didn't. I might have if I could just been sho he (her husband) would buy something this time that would sho enough kill him. Besides I wasn't protecting a Snopes from Snopeses; I wasn't even protecting a people from a Snopes. I was protecting something that wasn't even a people, that wasn't nothing but something that dont want nothing but to walk and feel the sun and wouldn't know how to hurt no man even if it would and wouldn't want to even if it could, just like I wouldn't stand by and see you steal a meat-bone from a dog. I never made them Snopeses and I never made the folks that cant wait to bare their backsides to them. I could do more, but I wont. I wont, I tell you!" It is hard to help people that are so willing to be victimized. Ratliff's frustration continues as he thinks he has finally found a way to get the best of Flem.
I won't tell you the circumstances of Ratliff's final defeat, but he finds himself digging for buried money.
When I was growing up my Father leased land from a guy named Urs Hauptli (Swiss). I used to help him pick watermelons and cantaloupes. He owned this sandy soil down by the river that was just perfect for growing sweet fruit and people would come from counties around to buy from him. I can tell you from experience you haven't tasted watermelon until you get a chance to cut it open right off the vine. He used to pay me with a jar full of antique coins, Indian head pennies, Buffalo nickels and Mercury dimes. I still have them, buried in a can, and I ain't going to tell you where.
Anyway shortly before Urs died he showed my Father several places where he had buried money. He had run a wire up from the lid of the can to the surface so he would have a guide to find that money when he needed it. Unfortunately I was away at college when Urs passed away, so my Father and brother had all the fun finding those wires and digging up those cans of money. One jar was filled with powdered paper money. The bank sent that off to a lab and they were able to assess as best they could how much money had been in the can. Surprisingly, the government replaced that money. Reading about Ratliff digging for bags of money brought back memories of Urs and his distrust of the banks.
This book was just so fun to read. There were passages where Faulkner would go on for pages talking about one of the characters and not tell you which one until near the end. It was a mystery each time that I puzzled on trying to figure out who he was talking about before he told me. You must have patience with Faulkner because he is going to tell a story the way he wants to tell it. This was so different from [b:Absalom, Absalom!|373755|Absalom, Absalom!|William Faulkner|http://d.gr-assets.com/books/1347686293s/373755.jpg|1595511]that I read back in May. There was no doubt, of course, that it was the same author, but using a more humorous style. I want to thank On the Southern Literary Trail; yet again, for pointing me towards another great work of Southern literature. I certainly intend to read more of William Faulkner. He has, with these two books, matured me as a reader, expanded my mind, and really made me respect his courage and fortitude to write such powerful books in a style that is uniquely his own. William Faulkner