Complicated. Difficult. Frustrating. Confusing. Challenging. You see where we're going with this? We just want to let you know that Shmoop knows what you're going through. This is not an easy book to get through.
But wait: Absalom, Absalom! was considered Faulkner's most successful novel in terms of style, and we have to give him some credit. As complicated as it is, this means he's able to pack in a whole lot of style: stream of consciousness, flashbacks, embedded narratives, multiple narrators. Mix in some crazy the long sentences and a huge dose of fantasy and conjecture, and you've got yourself a tough read. To top it all off, Absalom is also a highly literary text, full of allusions to mythology, the Bible, and literary works.
Let's take a look at one of these long-sentence, stream-of-consciousness moments:
It was a summer of wisteria. The twilight was full of it and of the smell of father's cigar as they sat on the front gallery after supper until it would be time for Quentin to start, while in the deep shaggy lawn below the veranda the fireflies blew and drifted in soft random – the odor, the scent, which five months later Mr. Compson's letter would carry up from Mississippi and over the long iron New England snow and into Quentin's sitting room at Harvard (2.1).
Gulp. Faulkner packs a lot of words and ideas into that one sentence. Look at the shift in the middle of the sentence right after the dash: "the odor, the scent." Faulkner shifts time and place right there, and the shift takes place around smell. He doesn't tell us what the odor and scent did, he just jumps from "the front gallery after supper" to five months later in Quentin's sitting room, where he will smell that same combination of wisteria and cigar smoke on the letter his father sends.
The past haunts characters through all of their senses, and Faulkner expresses that haunting in the very style of his prose. (By the way, Faulkner was super influenced by the eerie tone of Edgar Allan Poe, and the long sentences of Henry James.) In fact, the style reflects the complexity of the characters' (and so, the author's) feelings about the past. So even if it's tough to unpack, in the end, it's really fitting.
Faulkner definitely asks a lot of his reader. But you know what, Faulkner? We're ready to rise to the occasion.
P.S. You might not be surprised to learn that Faulkner wrote poetry before he wrote novels.