What would happen if soldiers on the front line of a war refused to continue fighting?
William Faulkner's 1954 novel "A Fable" explores this possibility. In the middle of World War I, a French Corporal persuades his comrades to ignore their orders and stop fighting the Germans. The Germans notice and also cease hostilities. The truce spreads to the armies of other countries in the conflict, and the war is brought temporarily to a halt. The peace enrages commanders on both sides, who interpret the soldiers' actions as Mutiny. The opposing generals meet in secret to determine how to deal with this threat to their authority.
Like most Faulkner novels, this one is difficult to read. Long, involved sentences with parenthetical asides, most of which provide important background information and some of which reflect seemingly random musings of the author, challenge the reader's attention. Often followed by sentence fragments. The author declines to provide names for most of his characters forcing the reader to keep track of them by their titles - and sometimes not even that.
Unlike most Faulkner novels, he sets this one outside the fictional Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha. The battlefields of eastern France provide a different flavor from most of his writing.
The Corporal exhibits numerous similarities to Jesus Christ. He begins by converting the twelve men in his squad, who spread the message to the rest of the army. He is betrayed by one of his followers. He is arrested, tried, and executed before the women in his life come to claim his body. The story takes place over a few days and parallels the Passion of the Christ.
Although this novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award, it has been largely forgotten. Critics hold many of Faulkner's earlier works in much higher regard.
The book's strength is its satire. It underscores the absurdity of war and the lengths those invested in combat will go to perpetuate it. I wonder if Joseph Heller drew some inspiration when he penned his classic anti-war farce "Catch-22." Heller's execution was superior, but Faulkner came first.