New in paperback: Dean Faulkner Wells’s ‘Every Day by the Sun’

March 28, 2012

Dean Faulkner Wells spent most of her life as a footnote in the story of her uncle William Faulkner. Even at her own wedding, she writes in her memoir, Every Day by the Sun (Broadway, $15), “every eye in the church was on Pappy” as he walked her down the aisle. But as she grew older, Wells became something of a star herself, as an author, co-owner of a small publishing house, literary salon hostess and, perhaps most important, the “last primary source” about her famous uncle. Wells, who died last summer at 75, made no claims as an official biographer. “Every Day by the Sun” is simply an account of her experiences with the man who essentially raised her. Her father, William’s younger brother Dean, was killed in a plane crash months before Wells was born, and her stepfather, an abusive alcoholic, flitted in and out of her life before dying on skid row in Chicago when Wells was in her 20s.

As one might expect from a story about the Faulkners, “Every Day by the Sun” features plenty of high jinks involving booze and women. Yet Wells insists, “I never saw William Faulkner drunk.” There are beguiling tales about Faulkner’s struggle toward literary stardom — his days as a bitter postal worker who discarded any mail not sent first class and his efforts to write “As I Lay Dying” while working the night shift at a power plant. “William wrote on the back of a wheelbarrow he had turned upside down,” Wells reports.

Much of this may not be news to Faulkner scholars and aficionados. But Wells’s personalized rendition brings a warmth to the lore. In her telling, Faulkner is less a literary icon than a quirky uncle who took her sailing, escorted her trick-or-treating, showed her how to clean a gun, and drove her to and from school. When Wells was a Pee Wee football cheerleader, Faulkner even stayed to watch the games, sitting in the same seat, wearing his signature hat. Wells says “Every Day by the Sun” is a kind of thank-you note to her uncle — who, in taking care of her, “had fulfilled his promise to my father” — but it is also a testament to her own gifts as a writer.

From our previous reviews


American novelist William Faulkner at his home in Rowan Oaks near Oxford, Miss., in 1950. (The Associated Press/AP)

David Baldacci praised Rawhide Down (Picador, $16), a detailed account of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and its aftermath, by Washington Post reporter Del Quentin Wilber. “The chapters that detail the assassination attempt and its immediate aftermath read like a thriller,” Baldacci wrote.

Narrated by a loquacious chimpanzee, Benjamin Hale’s The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore (Twelve, $14.99) is “a funny, sad and shocking tale of a stranger in our strange world, a place brought to account by an animal ashamed and proud of his own humanity,” according to Ron Charles.

Michael Dirda called Laura Snyder’s The Philosophical Breakfast Club (Broadway, $16) “an example of popular intellectual history at its near best.” The book examines the lives and work of a group of influential 19th-century British scientists, including the computer inventor who “helped bring about the transformation of science from a hobby into a profession.”

In To End All Wars (Mariner, $15.95), Adam Hochschild “brings fresh drama to the story” of World War I by focusing “on the war as undergone by those in Britain who took diametrically opposing views of it,” according to Jonathan Yardley.

Joshua Foer’s “passionate and deeply engrossing book” Moonwalking With Einstein (Penguin, $16) examines the science of memory and offers a “resounding tribute to the muscularity of the mind,” according to Marie Arana.

Margaux Fragoso’s memoir Tiger Tiger (Picador, $16), which recounts her childhood relationship with an older man, “manages to tell a disturbing story beautifully, leading readers into the secret world she inhabited for decades and even inspiring a modicum of sympathy for the man who manipulated and abused her,” wrote Lisa Bonos.

Krug writes the monthly New in Paperback column for The Post.

Nora Krug is a Book World editor and a MisFits columnist.
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