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Go Down, Moses

by William Faulker

May 3, 2000

I started reading this back in February, as a break from reading Bertrand Russell; Ellen and I took a vacation in Arizona, and I brought along GDM as reading material. I got through the first two chapters over the course of the vacation, and when we got home I started back in on the philosophy.

This past week we took another vacation, to St. Louis this time, where we visited my brother; and once again I brought along GDM. (By a funny coincidence, the night before we left was the first night of Pesach; at the Seder, at Ellen's brother's house, we sang "Go Down, Moses".) I got right back into the story and am nearly finished.

The New York Times review which is quoted on the back cover of the book calls it "proof that Faulkner's early promise has matured"; which kind of surprises me. I don't think it is nearly as good a book as the last Faulkner book I read, The Hamlet, which was published ten years before this one. I don't find the characters to be as complex; Isaac McCaslin in particular remains cryptic throughout the book, but the nature of his cryptic-ness is different from that of say, Flem Snopes -- I might call it facile. He does and says things that I'm not really expecting him to do or say, but they don't really seem to shed much light on his character. I also don't like the at times preachy tone of the book; a problem I've never had with Faulkner before.

That said, much of the book is excellent reading. I really enjoyed the second chapter, "The Fire and the Hearth"; and the fourth chapter, "The Old People", opens with a really beautiful description of a hunt. Faulkner does some interesting things with language; there's something going on that I haven't quite figured out, every time he uses the word "almost", which is fairly frequently.