The Homesteadnby Chilton Williamson, ]r.nNew York: Grove Weidenfeld;n288 pp., $18.95nThere’s a story about the filming ofnThe Big Sleep that ought to bentrue even if it isn’t. When HowardnHawks was supervising the final cut henrealized he didn’t know who had killednthe butler, so he summoned thenscreenwriter, William Faulkner, to findnout. Faulkner’s response was Helliflknow.nThe two of them then callednupon Raymond Chandler for the solution;nthe punch line is that Chandlerndidn’t know either.nChilton Williamson’s The Homesteadnis among other things a tissue ofnconscious and deliberate literary allusions,nto Faulkner, Hemingway, RobertnPenn Warren, Flannery O’Connor,nVoltaire, Homer. … Its resemblancento the Raymond Chandler opus may,non the other hand, be inadvertent.nMost apparently the novel is a what-ifnreprise of The Sound and the Furyn(transplanted to Wyoming): what ifnJason Compson went into exile, whilenQuentin and Caddy stayed home?nSam Houston Walker, who tellsnabout half of the story as a first-personnnarrator, is a crossbred Hemingway/nFaulkner protagonist. A professionalnbig game hunter in Africa, he lessnresembles Nick Adams than the blustering,nbragging Hemingway who appearsnin Green Hills of Africa. On thenFaulkner side, he’s a reincarnation ofnJason Compson, interested by his ownnaccount only in the cash value of hisnanticipated inheritance from the titularnHomestead, not in its human meaning,nand bittedy resentful of the gothicnMadison Smartt Bell is the author,nmost recently, of Soldier’s Joy. Henteaches at Gaucher College innTowson, Maryland.nWhen the Old Order Passesnby Madison Smartt Belln’The course of a river is almost always disapproved of by its source.”n— Jean Cocteaunentanglements of the family he’s madena concerted effort to abandon on thenother side of the globe. “A patrimony isnlike a father,” he cracks, “you onlynhave one of each of them.”nSam’s half of the tale is all aboutnhow his siblings entice him back intoninvolvement with the family and thenhome place. Back home, his brothernJack has put Frank Joad, a trespassingnnnoil surveyor, into a coma by the somewhatnunlikely method of clobberingnhim with a cowboy boot, and is likely tongo on trial for murder. His sisternClarice wires Sam to come back tonsuperintend the crisis, and Sam, troublednby the thought of money beingnlost in an expensive legal struggle,nconsents.nThe lines of conflict are simultaneouslynpersonal and political. In thenlatter department, Williamson hasntransferred the opposition of a traditionally-mindednagrarian society tonan encroaching industrial one, familiarnfrom Southern literature, from anSouthern to a Western context. Thensituation in and around Fontenelle,nWyoming, is a microcosmic vision of ancertain kind of deterioration of contemporarynAmerican life. Town andncountryside are overrun with unemployednSouth and Central Americannmigrants. Along with other vicissitudes,nthe oil company has brought in drugntrade. However, most of the local politiciansnare more than willing to sell outnto the oil company for jobs and cash.nThe old guard, as represented by thenWalker family, looks like losing. Sam’sngrandfather, generally known as thenOld Man, intransigently refuses to sellnan easement across his property to thenoil company, but in consequence angood part of the Homestead is nownpractically owned by the bank.nIn the broadest terms, Sam sharesnthe family’s suspicion and dislike of thentechnological society expanding itsnway. His trashing of New York City asnhe passes through on his way homenfrom Africa is one of the nicest piecesnof polemic in the book, culminating inna definition of “cosmopolitan culture”nas “sheer anarchic willfulness superimposednupon the mania for total collectivencontrol.” However, he sneers at hisnfamily’s “xenophobia,” and if he sharesnthe family passion for the land he doesnso with the utmost reluctance. ThenMAY 1990/35n