I've really been reading a lot lately. Since my last post I have read a very American novel by William Faulkner with strong Christian overtones called Light in August written in 1932 and 2 English novels, one written fairly recently in 1992, "Black Dogs" by Ian McEwan, and The Picture of Dorian Gray in 1890 by Oscar Wilde.
Light in August - I tried to read 2 books by Faulkner when I was young and didn't get beyond a chapter or two before giving up. I think it was mostly because of the combination of the language being southern and old-fashioned to me that I gave up. Listening to this book on CD helped immensely with this as the reader had a great southern accent and even interjected interesting voices and pauses that made the dialog and internal monologues flow in a way that gave the book a play-like quality. The interesting way the story was told with no regard for a timeline (I knew Tarantino didn't come up with that on his own :) made me have to guess the point of the story and even who the main characters were as people flowed in and back out of the spotlight. The main character turns out to be and orphan boy, half black and half white named Joe Christmas. When the story begins you find out he has likely committed a terrible crime, and with what little you know of him, you easily hate him. When the story takes a sharp turn and begins describing a pitiful orphan, it took me a while to realize that this was also Joe Christmas, when he was younger. As the novel progresses and you realize you are learning about Joe's humble and pitiable beginnings, Faulkner turns your initial hate for the man on its head. I never really grew any empathy for Christmas through the course of the book, but plenty of sympathy. With this very troubled character, Faulkner examines race, religion, and even the confusing relationships of men and women. Although he has a JC name, Joe Christmas' issues are very different from Jim Casey's from the Grapes of Wrath with the largest of these differences being that Joe is a victim. Never at any time do you feel that Joe had even a small chance to escape his fate. Even when he does act, it is just in response to having been acted for so many years. I'm sure there are tons of symbolism and themes I missed through my reading. To be honest I always have vague notions of these things as I read the book, but I can never disguise my "Eureka" reaction when they are spelled out for me by Cliff in his Notes or by a well-meaning professor. I kind of thought I would reach an age, like before I turned 35, when this stuff would magically come to me, but alas, it hasn't. I do know that there were tons of Christian references and themes in the book and lots of ideas on racism and prejudice in general. From the prejudice of the women-folk directed towards Lena, the unwed, pregant young woman searching for her baby-daddy, to the turmoil JC feels towards himself for not being able to find his place in either the white community or the black community. I think that I connected less with Reverend Hightower. His story, although also tragic, still seemed disconnected to me from the rest of the novel. He is also a doomed character, but seems to choose his doom much more than the others. One thing I found interested was a constant "deus ex machina" as the characters were led to their fates one step at a time, by what seemed to be instinct or a higher force. When Joe walks through the darkened house, when McEachern is lead directly to Joe at the dance, and when Byron Bunch is led to Lucas. This constantly gives the characters a fated or doomed feel to them and was not done by accident.
The best I can say is that this is a book that you should read. The writing is just incredible and has a style I know now I've seen imitated but never duplicated.
The few quotes I found online don't really do the writing justice, but I will add them below anyway. One drawback to the book on CD thing is that it is not easy to underline favorite lines. Here are a few I did like: