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The Twilight-Colored Smell of Honeysuckle
on April 21, 2014
If you were raised in the South, you may get chills reveling in Faulkner's evocative words "the twilight-colored smell of honeysuckle." You know exactly what this means, how wonderful it is to the senses and the almost-haunting, hazy memories it stirs in you of people long in your past or passed on. This novel was the most difficult I've read, but the most rewarding once I did the work required to know how to read it, and understood its structure and meanings.
I never thought I could read it; I tried 30 years ago, 19 years ago, 10 years after that, before I finally finished it a couple of years ago. When I picked it up, I concluded quickly that Faulkner must be a sadist to write anything like the first 10 pages. I read it twice and I was no better off the second time as I was the first go-round. I had absolutely no clue what the heck was going on, the sentences were disjunctive, the thoughts scrambled, the characters were dropping in then disappearing, it seemed to change time frames without any recognizable order so I had no sense of time and, ultimately, I had forgotten why it was, exactly, that I had bought the damned thing in the first place!
Oh yeah, I told myself. You want to read Mr. Mint Juleps from that Rowan Oak plantation home up in Oxford. You believe that by doing that you are proving maybe once and for all time that you too can escape the past of this State in which you were raised and of these ghosts that you find despicable, this hate you had no part of, these white sheets, fulgent from the flames above them but burned by the evil beneath, these ignorant men who were passed down hatred as heirlooms to hand down to their sons and their daughters. You think if you can make it through this man's novels it will show that you are more intelligent than what people from afar believe you to be, that you are not like the rednecks you see every day but burst from within to bound over, that you are not like your mother's father who you worshiped, a business man and deacon in the town's largest Southern Baptist church, who you remember using the N word once as you sat beside him at 7 as he was driving from downtown Natchez (the home of my forefathers), a town on the mighty Mississippi River filled with beautiful antebellum plantation homes and scattered with remnants of slavery and a segregated past before you were born, the town in which your mother is now buried 10 feet from her father. And your mother, God bless her, along with your father, raised you not to hate, nor to judge, and for that you believe you have been blessed.
After she was buried, you finally got the gumption to make it all the way through this knotty novel by that iconic author from the northern corner of your home state of Mississippi. It took a paperback, an electronic companion guide and an audible version to make it through and understand that you needed to read this book, that it was crucial as one more molting of the skin of your past, one more step away from the sins of the fathers, one further step away from that past for my children and hopefully their children.
I did it.