Just before book stores and the like closed due to Covid19, I paid $6.00 for The Sound and the Fury in the second-hand bookshop up the road. “Have fun with that,” the shopkeeper said. One is never sure which way to take her words. I once brought in four boxes of used books and she glanced through them, perfunctory and taciturn, until she spotted two small, boxed dictionaries. They’d been printed in Japan. One was Sanskrit-English, the other Tibetan-English. These were the only books she bought and I’ve regretted the sale ever since, even though I have no use for them anymore. Still. The way she honed in.
I leafed through the paperback as I walked home, looking, I think, for a name, scribbled annotations, a forgotten grocery list or photograph, something to connect me to the previous reader, something to tell me what I was in for. Because, yes, I was uninformed.
The book lay on my bedside table in the stack of half-read or about-to-be read books, and then it lay on the dining room table in another stack. Like the rest of the world, I was consumed by the pandemic and as time passed and we were all enlisted to help stop the spread, my husband and I longed for our children. Our son in China where life had resumed a pre-Covid19 pace, asking, are you guys still in the middle of that? The twins and their partners on the farm, focused on food production and unwilling to risk visits. Our daughter in the Yukon, self-isolating in her isolated little house in the middle of nowhere because her partner might be sick.
A mass shooting in Nova Scotia. And then a CAF Cyclone helicopter went down in the Ionian Sea. I was stretching on the living room floor, as I’d taken to doing every morning while I listened to the Prime Minister’s address, when the story broke. The words “went down” were what made me cry.
And wouldn’t you know it, I was reading The Sound and the Fury. Doing my best to follow the miserable decline of a family. It took me months to finish. From more or less the beginning of the lockdown to the beginning of the summer, with lots of books and journals and Netflix series inhaled when I’d come up from segments of Faulkner for air. The characters circled my mind, their angst and anger and disappointments blending with my general sense of malaise. Benjy running along the fence, his mind travelling from what he sees to what he remembers, from the golf caddie to his sister, Caddie; Quentin’s fractured thoughts as he contemplates suicide; Jason obsessing about money and the morals of Miss Quentin; Dilsey striving to keep peace.
“”Had I known just how long and serious the situation we were heading into was going to be, I might have chosen a light read, “”
Faulkner expects a lot from his reader. Launching into dialogue or time-leaping streams of consciousness, eschewing punctuation conventions and expository preamble. Any dropped hint must be spotted and picked up or you’ll be left behind. He marches through dialogue spit-ball fast and never explains who is speaking, why or when. It’s in there, he’s saying. Read on, it’s in there. So I read on, unsure, sometimes, of where I was, unsure of who the character was in relation to other characters. I carried on because these people were real. I’d joined their lives mid-upheaval for better or worse. Damn the punctuation or capital letters because the story had to move, had to keep up with Benjy or Quentin or Jason.
Had I known just how long and serious the situation we were heading into was going to be, I might have chosen a light read, but maybe The Sound and the Fury at the onset of Covid19 was the perfect fit: decline for decline. A book that travels through a handful of days while at the same time spanning close to thirty years — isn’t this what lockdown feels like?
In the doorway of the used bookstore, which is still closed, someone has made a home. A sleeping bag, coffee cups, piles of magazines and pages torn from books that were left in boxes, discarded in the hope that the proprietor might take an interest. Maybe even be grateful. This despite the signs on the windows indicating that books are, under no circumstances, to be abandoned here.
Meg Todd’s fiction has appeared in TNQ, Prairie Fire, Grain, PRISM, EVENT, The Humber Literary Review, CBC, and others. She lives in Vancouver.