The twists and turns of a large extended family that revolves around one character in one way or another while showing the change of life in Mississippi over the course of 80 years. Go Down, Moses by William Faulkner is a novel constructed around seven interconnected short stories revolving around the McCaslin family and relations.
The novel begins with “Was” relating how one night’s search for an escaped slave ultimately leads to the birth of the book’s central character, Isaac “Uncle Ike” McCaslin, and his Beauchamp relations who are descended from McCaslin’s grandfather with a black slave. “The Fire and the Hearth” follows Lucas Beauchamp, a black sharecropper who is farming his McCaslin’s ancestor’s land and getting away with treating the white landowner Roth Edmonds with bare contempt. “Pantaloon in Black” follows Rider who lives on Roth Edmond’s plantation who buries his wife then after seeing her ghost essentially goes suicidal as he kills a white man who’s been cheating blacks at dice for years and gets lynched. “The Old People” follows a ten-year old Isaac McCaslin killing his first deer on his first hunt with help from Sam Feathers, a son of a Chickasaw chief and a black slave-girl, who then leads him to an old tribal ritual to mark him becoming a hunter. “The Bear” follows Isaac over the next several years as he and the hunting group attempt to kill Old Ben, which only succeeds after they get a feral terrier named Lion that brings the bear to bay to allow to kill. Afterwards Isaac goes over his family’s history and decides to sign over his plantation to his cousin McCaslin Edmonds, Roth’s grandfather. “Delta Autumn” sees a nearly 80-year Isaac go on another hunting trip but with the sons and grandsons of the first hunting group seen in “The Old People”, he learns that Roth has had an affair and child with a black woman who turns out to be a distant Beauchamp cousin. The titular “Go Down, Moses” follows Gavin Stevens as he arranges the return and burial of Lucas Beauchamp’s executed grandson at the instigation of Lucas’ wife.
The quality of each story is up and down with “The Old People” read like the best followed by “Was”. Every other story really wasn’t that good, and some were just frustrating, especially “The Bear”. “The Bear” was compelling until the final third when Faulkner changed writing styles as Isaac explores his family history before giving away his land to his cousin while still taking care of his Beauchamp relations. Faulkner’s writing style decisions either made the stories good or frustrating, but I must admit that all of them did have some compelling things.
Go Down, Moses is not considered one of William Faulkner’s best works by many of his fans. While I can’t speak to that, I know I was not a fan of this book. This is many second Faulkner book and both have not been to my liking, I may read another Faulkner book several years in a future but nothing soon.