46 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.
Every Day by the Sun is simply remarkable. If you are at all literary minded, and you read no other books this summer, read this one. It is a wonderful memoir and a wonderful glimpse into the family life that was William Faulkner’s.
Dean Faulkner Wells is William Faulkner’s niece. Her father, also named Dean Faulkner, was killed in a plane crash shortly before her birth. This made Pappy (her name for Uncle Bill) a larger presence in her life than he might otherwise have been. He felt responsible for her after her father’s death. He provided for her, and he even went so far as to have himself named her legal guardian despite the fact that she had a mother who was still very much alive and present. Still, little Dean was particularly close to Pappy, and now that Pappy and Estelle and Jill and so many other close family members are all gone, Dean is left with a wealth memories.
There was the time she turned Sinclair Lewis away from the door because Pappy was busy and because the man had a funny name she didn’t quite know what to make of.
There was the way Shelby Foote and William Styron both showed her kindnesses at Pappy’s funeral.
There was the time she ran through the doors at Rowan Oak to tell Pappy that her sorority sister Mary Ann Mobley had just been crowned Miss America. Faulkner’s response was “I’m glad someone finally did something to put Mississippi on the map.” This was, of course, after he’d won the Nobel.
She repeats some of the famous stories that show up in Faulkner biographies.
Remember the one about the hunting trip with Clark Gable. Gable asks Faulkner who the best living writers are. Faulkner names several, among them Willa Cather, Dos Passos, and himself. Gable says, “Oh, Mr. Faulkner. Do you write?” Faulkner answers, “Yes, Mr. Gable. What do you do?”
Or how about Faulkner’s stint at the Ole Miss post office? He would sit reading or writing, sometimes refusing to stop what he was doing to respond to people tapping on the post office window. When someone complained, he said, “I refuse to be at the beck and call of every fool who has 2 cents for a stamp.”
Wells remembers a caring and supportive uncle with an unmatched wit. After paying for her college education, he declares her spectacularly prepared to do nothing. As, I suppose, anyone with a degree in English is.
She also remembers a driven, hard-working uncle. He was known for his drinking, but she remembers that he never drank while working. He went on binges after completing a novel. He went on such severe binges that he often checked himself into a hospital afterward to dry out. This is why many think he literally drank himself to death. He died at the same hospital that was his alcohol rehab facility of choice. His niece, however, says the official cause of death was cardiac thrombosis. He had a heart attack. You can fill in your own interpretations of the whats and the hows and the whys, I suppose, but his niece who was very close to him, who sometimes even lived at Rowan Oak, says she never saw him drunk. He drank a great deal, but he drank on his own terms. He did not waste away from constant alcohol abuse. He was even able to have a drink at a social occasion without going on a binge. This was not true of other heavy drinkers in the family, but Wells contends that it was true of Pappy.
There are so many great family stories in this book that it would be unfair to tease you with more today. You should just read the book. It is well done. It is inspiring. It is amusing, and it is insightful.
Dean Faulkner Wells has left me a real desire to learn more about the largest of the literary giants of my state. I think I’ll start by visiting and revisiting some of his novels. Watch this blog to find out how that goes.