The Life of William Faulkner, Volume 2: This Alarming Paradox, 1935–1962

Carl Rollyson. Univ. of Virginia, $34.95 (672p) ISBN 978-0-8139-4440-1

The concluding volume of this two-part biography of Faulkner shows Rollyson, a Baruch College professor emeritus, as both a careful observer of Faulkner the man, and an adept and perceptive reader of his work. Rollyson devotes much attention to the lingering influence of Faulkner’s lucrative but creatively frustrating work as a screenwriter, in a period that saw him largely turn his back on Hollywood and refocus on novel-writing in Oxford, Miss., receiving a Nobel Prize for his fiction in 1949. While Faulkner viewed his Hollywood sojourn as a mere “interruption of his novelist’s mission,” Rollyson argues that it made Faulkner produce “a different sort of fiction,” both in using cinematic techniques and in actively trying to move past the film industry’s “conventional plotlines and pieties” in works such as The Wild Palms and Absalom, Absalom. Rollyson also delves insightfully into Faulkner’s passionate extramarital affair with Meta Carpenter, a fellow Mississippian he met in Hollywood; his prodigious bouts of drinking; and his enigmatic personality, which used a courtly and reserved manner to mask his troubled inner self. Rollyson’s painstakingly researched and beautifully written biography should be a touchstone for Faulkner scholarship for years to come. (Sept.)