Pylon was William Faulkner’s eighth novel; he wrote it at the height of his powers, just before Absalom, Absalom! (1936) and not long after Light in August (1932). The novel is, above all, about flying and the motivation of those who fly. The “pylon” of the title is the tower or steel post around which a pilot must turn as he competes in a race at an air fair. The term figures prominently in the jargon of competing pilots; they “turn pylons” with their planes on each lap—they “take that pylon” and try to “fly the best pylon.” Because of its subject matter, the novel is less well known than other novels Faulkner wrote during this period, yet it would be a mistake to think that it is “just about flying”; many of the themes closest to Faulkner’s heart receive full, complex treatment in this neglected novel. Pylon is also one of Faulkner’s most exciting books, set near and in New Orleans during the week of Mardi Gras.
The plot of the novel can be summarized quite simply: A flying team composed of a pilot, a “jumper,” or parachutist, and a mechanic, accompanied by a woman and her son, are desperately short of money and hope to win at least one of the purses at an air show. They live only on their winnings, which means that often they have no place to stay, little to eat, and no money for transportation within a city. They resemble circus performers, and some of the themes in the book are remarkably close to those of Ingmar Bergman’s film The Naked Night (1953). Although the book is about the “romance” of flying, the hard physical conditions of the performers are kept firmly in the foreground. Onlookers, newspaper reporters, and members of the audience speculate on their motivation: Do they fly for money or for another reason? Are they “human” and “like us” (or a Holy Family)?...
(The entire section is 766 words.)