Most Underrated Book
There’s never going to be a definitive answer to the question of the most underrated book. So I guess I have to go with my whole reading experience and measure the quality of the specific book against the other work of the author.
Light in August by William Faulkner
This is the Faulkner novel that has been overshadowed by his more experimental works. If any of you readers are wondering what to read for your first foray into the world of Faulkner, my money is on this novel. Faulkner’s method of jumping around in time and space continues in this novel, but it is practically impossible to get lost in the narration as can happen quite easily in The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. The reason I chose to write about this book is because of the message that Faulkner sends with this book. The particular issue he tackles in this novel is that of alienation/isolation and its effect on the human soul. I don’t know about you, but whenever I hear this theme, my ears automatically perk up. This could be a result of any number of reasons. Most likely is that I consider myself (in a shamelessly proud way) somewhat of an outsider or loner. My favorite stories and poems address this same theme of alienation. But what Faulkner reminds us with this novel is that alienation is not a natural human resting place–it is actually a desperate in-between state filled with wanting and thwarted desire and that it becomes completely necessary to transcend that state if one wishes to continue existence.
In this awesome podcast, Steve Almond reads from his essay, “Everything They Told You About MFA School Was A Lie, Except the Debt” and he discusses the mistake that most hip, young writers make when writing about alienation. This mistake is to assume that alienation is a romantic or desirable state, as if the character in question would decide against leaving this state if he had the choice. The central character in Faulkner’s book, Joe Christmas, is a perfect example of an alienated character. He has “parchment-colored skin” and we are never explicitly told whether or not he has any ethnic blood. He is referred to as white, Mexican, foreign, and black, among other things. Christmas himself has no definitive knowledge of his origins, which leaves him with a hole in his identity that he struggles to fill throughout the book. I think this is why I view the book as the most underrated. I am continually fascinated by works that deal with struggles in identity and alienation and that is exactly what Light in August is all about.