Intruder in the Dust ~ A Capsule Book Review

Intruder in the Dust ~ A Capsule Book Review by Allen Kopp

In the small town of Oxford, Mississippi, a white man named Vinson Gowrie is murdered, while a black man named Lucas Beauchamp stands accused and is put in jail. The Gowries (from “Beat Four”) are sure to want revenge. They can get enough of their redneck friends together to storm the jail and remove Lucas Beauchamp and lynch him. The law is conceivably helpless against such a mob.

A sixteen-year-old boy name Charles “Chick” Mallison is convinced of Lucas’s innocence, while everybody else believes he is guilty. When he was twelve years old, out hunting in the woods, Chick fell into the river and was pulled out by Lucas Beauchamp. Lucas took him home with him, gave him dry clothes and half his dinner. Chick tried to pay him for his kindness with some coins he had, but Lucas didn’t take well to being given money by a white child. Chick never forgot Lucas’s kindness, his dignity, and how much he was unlike other black people of his acquaintance.

With little more than a hunch to go on, Chick wants to prove that Lucas is innocent. He gets his friend, Aleck Sander (a black youth his own age), to go along with him to the cemetery where Vincent Gowrie is buried, miles outside of town. But, wait a minute, there’s at least one adult who also believes Lucas is innocent. A seventy-year-old spinster named Miss Habersham grew up with Lucas’s now-deceased wife, so she has a personal interest in the matter. She goes along on the nighttime visit to the cemetery to dig up Vinson Gowrie’s body and take it back to town so it can be examined by an expert to prove that Lucas’s gun didn’t fire the fatal bullet.

Well, wouldn’t you know it? There’s a body in Vincent Gowrie’s grave all right, but it’s not Vincent Gowrie. Now it becomes a murder mystery. While everybody else is waiting around for the Gowries to lynch Lucas Beauchamp, a handful of people (Chick Mallison, his lawyer uncle, Miss Habersham) are willing to miss sleep and put themselves out to prove that something more sinister is going on that a black man murdering a white man in a small Southern town.

Intruder in the Dust was first published in 1948. It is, we are told, William Faulkner’s answer to race relations in the South. It’s written in a stream of consciousness style, making it wordy and at times difficult to read. Some of the sentences are hundreds of words long and some of the paragraphs go on for two pages or more. A thought will obtrude on a thought and then another thought will obtrude on that thought. Faulkner was the supreme literary stylist of American literature. Nobody else even comes close.

Copyright © 2018 by Allen Kopp

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