The Sun Also Rises with Sound and Fury

I read The Sun Also Rises and The Sound and the Fury back-to-back. Both novels were written in the 1920s. They have different settings, but they both capture a similar early 20th century angst.

Although I feel like I understood the details of Hemingway’s entry better, I think I enjoyed Faulkner’s book more. Maybe it was the thrill of believing I had decoded some little secret in the cypher of Faulkner’s prose. (I’m proud to say I think I got, at least, the gist of it.) Perhaps it was because Hemingway made me lament my inability to collect his myriad empty bottles to return for the deposit money.

Yes, there was a lot of drinking in The Sun. It made me think of a college kid recounting his exploits with his buddies on their summer vacation together. But these weren’t college kids; they were WWI veterans, which appears to be the only group to ever have out-drunk college kids on their summer vacation.

“Here’s the plan: we’ll go over to see the bullfight, then come back here and drink ’til dawn. Then, we’ll get up early and do it all over again tomorrow.”

The characters in The Sound didn’t drink quite so much, at least not right out in the open. One character did reportedly drink himself to death, but he did it quietly while we weren’t looking, like a true southern gentleman would.

I feel like the bulk of the whiskey drinking in The Sound was done by the author himself. That’s not necessarily a bad thing in my book. One or two drinks can help a writer get the prose flowing. In this case, however, there were times when the prose made me think, “You’re well into your third bourbon now, aren’t you Bill?”

“I don’t always use punctuation, but when I do, you may not be any less confused.”

The Sun is sort of an expatriates gone wild, roaring ‘20s, European edition. The Sound is a pioneer of 20th century southern fiction, (i.e., dysfunctional family tales). Hemingway’s characters make bad choices because they are chronically drunk. Faulkner’s characters make bad choices because, well, it’s not so much the heat as the humidity.

The common theme running through both novels seems to be a general discontentedness. This is not an uncommon theme in literature, and I have no personal inclination toward a happy ending, but I like to see a character take some reasonable steps toward a more contented life. Perhaps I missed that character in each novel. Faulkner’s people only complain about how some other character, or characters, have made them miserable. Hemingway’s crew spends their time trying to spread their discontent among all their so-called friends.

It’s a bit surprising to recall that there was only one suicide between the two books. That is, there was only one suicide I recognized. I’m a simple reader and if an important event occurred after the author’s third double whiskey of the chapter, it might have passed by without me even whiffing the gist of it.

I’m glad I read both books, but I’m also happy they didn’t write many sequels back in those days. I got enough of each group of malcontents. Besides, I still feel a little hungover.