A Fable (Vintage International)
William Faulkner considers A Fable his masterpiece. It won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in 1955 (one of only a handful of books to win both in the same year). These accolades, however, have not led to widespread acclaim or longevity for the novel, and for years it was relegated to afterthought status, deemed "minor" Faulkner, and available only as a cheap, hard to read paperback or as a part of an expensive anthology.
As Faulkner is my favorite writer, and as I am, by nature, a completist, I read A Fable (a library copy that was easier to read than the pulp paperback) a few years back, despite the warnings that it was difficult - even impossible -to read, despite the cautions that slogging through it was not worth the effort...and I loved it.
Now that Vintage International has re-released it (along with most of Faulkner's other novels) in a beautiful new paperback edition, I decided to reread it, apprehensive that I might have overestimated the novel's strengths, having been 26 when I first read it - but I had not. If anything, I found the novel even more brilliant and illuminating on second reading.
This is not your typical Faulkner (as another reviewer pointed out) but it is far from "minor" Faulkner. This book is, at times, difficult, but what Faulkner isn't? - and who would even consider reading any Faulkner if they didn't want to be challenged? And, when compared to some of his other masterworks (The Sound and the Fury or Absalom, Absalom! for example) it is actually a quick, surprisingly easy read.
A Fable has much in common with the aforementioned Absalom, Absalom! in that it focuses more on the human condition and the various aspects of human nature than on character-driven narrative. The characters here, as in Absalom, Absalom! are allegorical representations of diverse facets of humanity, playing out, in their myriad interactions, the eternal struggles we have faced for millennia (the endeavoring for peace in uncertain times, the concepts of forgiveness, and bravery, and heroism, and love, the striving to find meaning and redemption in the world). The lack of traditional characterization in no way undermines A Fable's emotional impact, for we can see, as a result, expressions of ourselves - and our world and history - within these characters.
While A Fable essentially tells (allegorically) the story of Christ and his Apostles, culminating in his "crucifixion" and eventual "resurrection" in the French trenches of World War I, it is not really a religious novel; it never gets bogged down in religious theology, never seems heavy-handed, never becomes either preachy or blasphemous. So too with its anti-war themes: it makes its case by focusing on war as a curse of mankind (and a product of our species' ongoing internal conflict), not by politicizing it or proselytizing upon it. As a result, A Fable achieves a universality found only in the best works of literature, speaking to that that is good - and not so good - in all of us.
The rewards of reading this book cannot be overstated: this is vast, inspired, passionate and virtuosic writing. (Consider the following description: "Her face [was] quite empty for the moment but with something incipient and tranquilly promising about it like a clean though not-yet-lighted lamp on the kitchen bureau.") A Fable is Faulkner at his best, and that is really saying something. Hopefully, now that Vintage International has brought it out in an edition worthy of its merits, it will continue to receive, on a larger and larger scale, the attention and commendation that is deserves. For A Fable is not just a Faulkner masterpiece; it is a literary masterpiece, a masterpiece of all time.