William Faulkner – Three Famous Short Novels – Spotted Horses
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I recently bought a paperback collection of three of Faulkner’s novellas (at least one was originally considered a long short story), and as I work my way through them, I’ll remark on them here.
The first, Spotted Horses, was destined to be a portion of a subsequent novel, The Hamlet, published in 1940. The story line as presented here seems only partly thought out, but many of the depictions are vivid, exciting, even whimsical, witty, and ironic. The storyline:
Flem Snopes, one of Faulkner’s more memorable characters, rides into an unnamed town, accompanied by a Texan and a herd of unbroken horses. A crowd of locals gathers, and the Texan begins to coax, first one, then another, to buy one or more of his ponies. The locals are leery of both the Texan and his horses; the Texan because he seems to come off as a snake oil salesman, the ponies because they’re overly spirited and unbroken. And the Texan is none to gentle with his herd. He curses at them as only Faulkner can simulate: “Get up, you transmogrified hallucinations of Job and Jezebel.” And “Get in there, you banjo-faced jackrabbits.”
Soon, the horses break loose in the town; damage is extensive. There’s a bit of a scam involved in a horse sale, and the Texan ends up in court.
One thread Faulkner weaves into his tale is a young boy with “periwinkle eyes,” who hovers at the story’s periphery, giving it a dose of charm.
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Clearly, Faulkner struts his stuff as a storyteller here. His dialogue is as accurately Southern and period as can be. In narrative and scene, he has an eye for the little things that add truth and realism to his fiction. But there are other aspects that trouble this reader. First, his prose, while in one sense taut, is overly ornate in both scene and narrative, which is something of a barrier to immersing oneself in the story. Second, Faulkner is occasionally vague with regard to things that matter to the reader: Where did the story take place? At story’s end, there’s another trial – one must assume it’s the Texan on trial, scammed by Flem Snopes, but it’s really not clear, and seems a clumsy way to end.
Given that this story grows into a fully fleshed novel, Faulkner’s writing process is instinctively good, but itthe segment presented here dosn't seem thought out two paces ahead, which gives this novella the up and down feel of a rough draft.
My rating: 14 of 20 stars