Sounder

Criticizing a classic is no fun. But I’m surprised this IS a classic. It’s not the subject matter I didn’t appreciate; it’s the style. Apart from the dog Sounder, nobody in the book has a name. They’re ‘the father’, ‘ the mother’ or ‘ the boy’. Then there’s the setting, which I’m guessing is somewhere in the southern USA after the Civil War? Or is it later, in the 1920s or 1930s? The book never specifies. And this lack of specificity applies to the book as a whole: it’s written in a cool, detached, third person narrative that makes it next to impossible – for me, at least – to feel involved. The emotion is described, not felt.

I imagine admirers will say the author is attempting a feeling, a mood. Rather than describing one particular moment, he wants to communicate a general experience of the racism that drives the plot. And that does come across. But it comes across at a distance. Because nobody has a name, because there’s practically no dialogue, because of that third person narrative, caring about the characters becomes an effort.

All that said, though, kids read differently. They take books at face value. If I’d read Sounder when I was 12, I probably would have loved it. It’s the non-stop-reading adult me who gets to analyze like this. I’d certainly never try to dissuade a child from picking this up.

Sounder

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