In this, the final book in Faulkner's "Snopes" trilogy, we witness the betrayal and death of Flem Snopes, which brings with it a growing sense that the Snopes, now firmly ensconced in Yoknapatawpha County, might just be their own worst enemies. Flem conquered the rural populism of Frenchman's Bend. He conquered the urban industrialism of Jefferson. He now has his claws in just about every facet of Yoknapatawpha's economic and social life. But there are two elements brewing under the surface that will ultimately converge and lead to his downfall. The first has to do with Mink Snopes. Mink, a relative of Flem's, murdered a man in cold blood and was sent away to prison. The second concerns his daughter Linda Snopes, who may or may not be his actual biological daughter (due to his possible impotence). She abandons Jefferson after her mother's death, which she blames on Flem. Her later return to Jefferson is what drives the events that lead to the novel's climax.
Mink ultimately feels that his arrest and incarceration were only possible by Flem's betrayal. Already a borderline psychopath, prone to dark rages against unseen oppressors and a childish obsession with vengeance as the great equalizer, Mink believes that Flem should have used his influence to get him off. When Flem refuses to endanger his social standing by helping his unstable relative, Mink decides that Flem is going to be his next target. Flem is not blind to this threat, and he is not without his own methods of protecting himself.
Flem arranges for another relative, Montgomery Ward Snopes, to be arrested and sent to the same prison where Mink is quietly serving out his sentence (while fantasizing about murdering Flem). Flem convinces Montgomery, though, to arrange for Mink to attempt an escape. Flem knows that an escape attempt will either result in Mink's death, or a revocation of any possibility of parole. But the plan backfires and Mink does in fact escape. He is now coming straight for Flem.
Until the climax, the bulk of the novel is a rehash of events from the previous two books, especially of Flem's rise to power in Jefferson in THE TOWN, but here seen through the eyes of other characters, especially Linda's, who's own idiosyncratic interpretations of everything from de Spain's ouster and her mother's suicide provide background to her motivations in the climax. We also see her attempts to assimilate into the wider world outside Yoknapatawhpha, but even though she is not as single-minded as Flem or as ideologically sheltered as her other southern peers, she finds the outside world a chaotic mess of racial tensions, displaced peoples, and contradictory politics. Weary of it all, she decides at last to return to Jefferson.
It is here that her path converges with Mink's. Mink has no means of getting at Flem, who is perched away in his titular mansion, which happens to be the ancestral home of his old enemy, Manfred de Spain. But Flem's fate is sealed when Linda decides to help him. With her help, Mink breaks into the mansion and kills Flem. Again with Linda's help, he then flees the scene, and the county, his vengeance a paltry thing in the end.
There are no happy endings here. Flem, the hero and villain of this trilogy, is dead. His daughter is torn by her own role in his death, and has no choice but to leave as well. And yet, Jefferson is not free of the vast array of Snopes. At the funeral, locals notice more and more of them appearing seemingly from out of nowhere, like rats, ready to feed on the remains of Flem's empire.
Best part of story, including ending:
The constant rehashing of the previous book got a little obnoxious, but it was worth slogging through all that for such a perfectly epic encapsulation of everything Faulkner set out to achieve from the very first introduction of young Flem Snopes in THE HAMLET.
Best scene in story:
Flem's funeral is a shudder-inducing scene: the wary hope just entering the minds of some of the locals that the hated Snopesism will be over now that Flem is dead; the horrifying realization that Flem's death solved nothing, and that there are in fact more Snopes than ever before. Classic stuff.
Opinion about the main character:
Again, Flem is Flem. A cold-hearted bastard. But we've been with him for so long over this trilogy, it's hard not to feel some pangs of loss at his death, however deserved it might ultimately have been.