Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

It's funny, the things that percolate up from my undergraduate education. When we dropped EGA in NoHo at the end of August we stopped into one of the many excellent used bookshops after dinner, and emerged with armloads. Part of my haul was a Modern Library volume containing the three Snopes novels by William Faulkner: "The Hamlet", "The Town" and "The Mansion". One of the best professors I had in college was Clay Lewis, and one of the very best things I took from him was a Faulkner survey. It helps to have a guide with Faulkner, at least starting out, and Lewis was an outstanding guide. A Southerner himself, but not in any sort of jingoistic way, we covered a goodly part of Yoknapatawpha County over the course of the semester. I know for sure we read "The Town", because I was immediately taken with Gavin Stevens, the romantic young lawyer. That's how progressive Faulkner was-- he had a likeable lawyer character. I believe a lot of the material from "The Hamlet" appeared first as stories or novellas-- reading it over the last few weeks a great deal of it was familiar, but big parts seemed new, and it is possible that I never read it before. I recall I read "The Mansion" on my own-- Lewis had accomplished his task with me, and I read a lot of Faulkner after the class was over. Once you have aquired a feel for the territory, one of the treats is that the same charactors, themes and situations keep showing up, so that the effect is like going to a big wake, and hearing about the deceased from a dozen perspectives. Or, I suppose, like sitting quietly somewhere and listening to the stories that swirl around as other people come and go. If you sit long enough, you'll start to recognise a lot of the same stories, even though they are all always different.

In any event, I'm just about through "The Town" now, and enjoying how fresh it seems to me. People come to Faulkner the wrong way, I think. I know I started with "The Sound and the Fury", which is tough sledding, at least at first. "As I Lay Dying" isn't much easier. These Snopes books, though, roll along like Dickens, with barely a wasted word or gesture. It is funny to think that Faulkner was out of print for a time-- American literature doesn't get better than this. The plots are tightly constructed, there are sharply observed characters everywhere, and the anecdotes that build to the ultimate point are often really funny. It's rare for me to take a novel on a Sunday flight-- I like to pick up several newspapers instead-- but this has been a near constant companion.

I must have taken a half-dozen classes from Professor Lewis. He introduced me to "One Hundred Years of Solitude", I recall, and I'm sure a lot of other things that remain important to me. I can only remember the Faulkner class now, though. CLA is looking at schools this fall, and has consented to look at my alma mater. Lewis isn't there any more, (I only recognize one name from my time there) or I'd look him up when we visit. I hope he is still teaching, still sitting quietly in the evening browsing through his old copy of "Lee's Lieutenants"-- he used to talk about that book all the time, but I've not gotten to it yet.

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