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Faux Faulkner spins adjectives into literary labyrinth

His was a behemoth of a task, an abysmal tangle of roots sunk deep in the vicissitude of Mother Earth, teasing the id with a clerihew from his Cajun heart, conjuring up a plethora of words for his verbose treatise and making him master of Faulkner write-alikes.

But with mint juleps and a little irreverent humor, Lance Martin was up to that task, walking off with a victory in the annual William Faulkner imitation contest.

Barely staying within the contest's limit of 500 words, Martin wrote, and wrote and wrote _ spinning out a work full of words like cacophonous, zeitgeist and transmogrified and plenty of references to blood and soil.

The 25-year-old New Orleans lawyer planned to read his adjective-filled entry today at the University of Mississippi as part of the opening of a weeklong conference honoring the Nobel Prize-winning literary master who died in 1962.

The bulk of Martin's opus is a single, breath-sapping sentence that runs just short of 470 words, but there are 64 commas to give the reader pause to inhale.

In Absaloon, Absaloon! a takeoff on the title of Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! Martin parallels the spread of gambling to Faulkner's themes of the destruction of virgin timberlands.

The centerpiece is a fictional Spotted Horse Casino, and he writes of "the hyperkinetic crowd pushing forward, eager and hungry, the tinkering machines, the maddening, furious, relentless "ching. ching. ching.' of the slots, ill-mannered and poorly-clad, scratching and clawing in their maddening effort to feed the behemoth's swollen belly . . ."

Martin procrastinated until the final week before the contest's deadline. After a long day at his law firm, he sat down one evening and had a mint julep before picking up his laptop computer.

Martin said his finished work was "your nightmare fiction course in college, the long sentence, jumbled words, confusing, rambling."

"I felt so irreverent. I thought it was kind of dark and brooding, moody," he said.

But Dean Faulkner Wells, Faulkner's niece and the organizer of the 7-year-old contest, found it witty.

"I thought it was wonderful," she said.

Martin, whose wife is a medical student, wins an expense-paid week-long trip to Oxford to picnic at Faulkner's white antebellum home and meet with scholars.

Martin said he started reading Faulkner on the recommendation of a college history professor.

"She said that Faulkner was like scotch, it was an acquired taste. It may be hard to stomach but if you got through the first one you could get addicted," said Martin, who has read some of Faulkner's books three times.

After his mouthful of an opening sentence, Martin's winning entry finishes almost simply: "And somewhere, beyond it all, far in the deep recesses of the brackish bog, faint yet immutably distinct, a human voice, howling."

_ Typed, 500-word entries for next year's contest may be sent to: Faux Faulkner, The Faulkner Newsletter, P.O. Box 248, Oxford, MS 38655, before Feb. 1, 1997.

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