In William Faulkner: The Novelist as Short Story Writer, Hans H. Skei offers a full-scale critical study of Faulkner's career and achievement as a writer of short stories. Although important basic work has been done on Faulkner's short fiction, Skei is correct in observing that it remains "the most neglected area" of Faulkner's achievement. In his first chapter, "William Faulkner and the Short Story," Skei provides what he describes as "a minimal discussion of genre and of the problems encountered" in interpreting a large number of stories, together with a brief encounter with what he terms "methodological qualifications." Following this Introduction, Skei discusses Faulkner's career in terms of the four periods (1919-1927, 1928-1932, 1933-1941, 1942-1962) that he first outlined in his bibliographical and textual study of Faulkner's short fiction, William Faulkner: The Short Story Career (1981). On each of these periods, Skei offers two chapters. As he moves from period to period, and even from story to story, Skei's emphases shift, though his basic intention remains constant throughout: he wants to do justice to "the formal aspects of the stories and their thematic significance"—or, put another way, to "the relationship between the story recounted and the narrative discourse in which it is recounted."
Readers familiar with Faulkner's work will know that Skei's undertaking is large. Faulkner's stories are numerous and diverse, and they bear complex, shifting relations to the novels that form the center of his achievement. In some respects, Skei's contribution is also large. He is a careful, straightforward critic, and he does a good job of placing Faulkner's stories in the context of his career. His overt eclecticism enables him to draw scattered insights from "many theories about narrative structure," from Henry James and Percy Lubbock through Wayne Booth to Seymour Chatman and Gerald Genette. Finally, however, Skei's achievement is also limited, in part because it covers too much familiar ground and in part because it is too casual methodologically.
Early in his study, Skei notes that his work "is by no means an essay in method, but rather an attempt to read all the short stories written by one particular author, and then to report from the reading." Yet, because many of Faulkner's stories, including the finest, have been widely discussed, and because virtually all of them have been looked at more than once, it is not at all clear that what we now most need is a series of "readings." More important, however, is Skei's reluctance to confront problems that are inescapably methodological. One principle that governs his book is a certain kind of inclusivity. The clear obligation that he feels to discuss all of Faulkner's stories often gives his work a strained quality that leaves one wondering whether listing and describing might not better have sufficed. Such determined inclusivity is of value primarily in a reference guide.
Skei's larger ambition, as captured in his subtitle—"The Novelist as Short Story Writer"—is also at odds with his commitment to chronology. His "report" follows carefully the order in which Faulkner wrote his stories. Of obvious value [End Page 269] in a reference work, this procedure inevitably creates a large problem in a critical study. Put bluntly, the problem is this: the chronology that governs Skei's report bears a problematic relationship, first, to the order in which the works were published, second, to that in which Faulkner adapted them to other artistic uses, and, third, to that in which Skei happened to read them. There is a pieced-together feel to this book that derives from Skei's changing interests as a reader as well as from his determined critical eclecticism. But the larger problem lies...