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William Faulkner: Pylon

This is definitely a minor Faulkner novel. Interestingly enough, though it is not a great novel, of all the films made out of his novels, Tarnished Angels, the film version of this book, may be the best. There are two reasons for that. Firstly, it is very difficult to make a good film out of a good book, as the good book is often too complex to transfer to the screen, while a lesser book is easier to transfer. Secondly, the film was directed by the legendary and very underrated Douglas Sirk.

Part of the reason why it is not so good, is that it is set away from Yoknapatawpha County, specifically in New Valois, a very thinly disguised New Orleans. More particularly, Faulkner never seems to get to grips with his characters. Not only is all the story told in the third person, the main character – the Reporter – does not have a name. Faulkner said that the character never did tell me who he was. In addition, even the named characters seem somewhat distant, as though Faulkner was not really interested in them. According to Faulkner, all are based on real characters he met when he himself went flying. Another major difference from his other novels is that these character have no history and no ties to any place, a key in other Faulkner novels. Early on, Jiggs, for example, is asked where he is from. He cannot say, only naming the place where his ex-wife lives.

The story concerns a team of airplane barnstormers. They make their living in airplane races and exhibitions. As the reporter notes, they are not like us, behaving differently and living, like other Faulkner characters, outside the mainstream of society. The three main characters live in a ménage à trois. Laverne Shumann is married to the flying ace Roger Shumann but is also sleeping with the parachute jumper, Jack Holmes. Their son is constantly teased by being asked Who’s your Daddy? and, though only six, is nicknamed Dempsey as he furiously fights anyone who teases him in this way. When Roger is killed in a stunt and Laverne takes the child to Roger’s parents, Roger’s father makes it very clear that he cannot accept her nomadic way of life and if she leaves the child it is for good. Indeed, much of the novel is about their hard living life, constantly without money (and taking risks to get it), drinking heavily and generally partying. While this may be a portrait of the post-First World War Generation, it doesn’t really work too well. They may be a different breed as a result of the war, but all too often we are left asking, so what?

Publishing history

First published 1935 by Harrison Smith and Robert Haas