Tuesday, March 24, 2015

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Published 1930
Source: I bought my "copy" for my Nook

As I Lay Dying is Faulkner's harrowing account of the Bundren family's odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members—including Addie herself—the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos.

My Thoughts:
Admission - I read this book by mistake. A couple of months ago, a fellow blogger and I agreed that we would, once again, attempt a readalong, this time of Faulkner. As the first of March rolled around, I found myself busy with books I "had" to read and didn't get started right away. Then, somewhere along the way, I switched the book we'd agreed to read in my brain. By the time I realized my mistake, I was almost a third of the way done with this one and decided to finish it (it was only about 190 pages so I wasn't making a huge commitment).

Faulkner has a reputation for being tough to read. As I Lay Dying is told from the perspective of 15 different narrators. 15. One of them dead. One of them not even present for the parts he is narrating. Several by neighbors who only play a small part in the story but who offer a glimpse into the family. Almost all of them unreliable. So,  yeah. A bit tough to read. Particularly since some if really isn't even meant to make sense; it's simply what is going on in a given character's mind. But it doesn't require a college English professor to explain it to you. Although there is this:
"In a strange room you must empty yourself for sleep. And before you are emptied for sleep, what are you. And when you are emptied for sleep, you are not. And when you are filled with sleep, you never were. I dont* know what I am, I dont know if I am or not. Jewel knows he is, because he does not know that he does not know whether he is or not. He cannot empty himself for sleep because he is not what he is and he is what he is not."
Despite death, arson, a hazardous river crossing, and an arrest, the focus of As I Lay Dying is squarely on Faulkner's characters. In death, Addie Bundren finally wields the power she never had over her family while living, taking her revenge on a family which failed, in her lifetime, to help her overcome her loneliness.
"She lived, a lonely woman, lonely with her pride, trying to make folks believe different, hiding the fact that they just suffered her, because she was not cold in the coffin before they were carting her forty miles away to bury her, flouting the will of God to do it. Refusing to let her lie in the same earth with those Burdens."
The Bundrens do dysfunctional families one better - there is almost no feel of them being a family, more a group of people who were thrown together and by necessity live on together.

According to Faulkner, he wrote the book between midnight and 4 a.m. while working at a power plant and said that he never changed a word of it. Which may explain while sometimes it felt a bit rambly but would also explain while the stream of consciousness style feels so organic. You've got to hand it to Faulkner, given that this book is consistently rated as one of the great books of the twentieth century, when he called this work a "tour de force" it wasn't just vanity. Because there is also this:
"Before us the thick dark current runs. It talks up to us in a murmur become ceaseless and myriad, the yellow surface dimpled monstrously into fading swirls traveling along the surface for an instant, silent, impermanent and profoundly significant, as though just beneath the surface something huge and alive waked for a moment of lazy alertness out of and into light slumber again."
And that is why I so enjoyed this book - Faulkner made me see every thing along the journey, feel his character's pain, understand their motives. Even while I was trying to understand what the heck he was talking about.

*as Faulkner wrote it


  1. Sounds a very tough read. Maybe too much for me

  2. I read this book years ago and remember needing spark notes to help me keep track of it all... ended up loving it though. I'll get back to Faulkner one day!

  3. I thought had read this classic but I don't think I have. What book were you supposed to read instead?

  4. I loved this one when I read it in high school. I was probably the only one in my class. I haven't read anything else by Faulkner, I'm afraid. Maybe I should. I credit this book with being the only one I can recite an entire chapter by heart still. Mind you, it was a very short chapter. Just one sentence. But I haven't forgotten it. :-)

  5. Curious what you thought you were supposed to be reading! I read this one a few years ago and struggled with it. Wonder if I'd fare better now. I read Sound and the Fury with an undergrad course and it was work but I appreciated it. I think maybe I'm just not smart enough to get it all on my own. ;) BUT I do like his writing. It is very lyrical--if a bit longwinded.

  6. I've had a copy of this on my shelf for years. Every time I purge books, I deliberate whether or not to keep it, and so far it's always made the cut. Like Trish, I read Sound and the Fury in college, and we were not friends. But something about As I Lay Dying makes me feel compelled to read it. If you kept going even after you realized you didn't have to...maybe there's hope for me :)

  7. This is one of my favorite books of all time. I read it in college, so I may be due for a reread one day.

  8. I read this in high school, thought it interesting, and then shelved all thoughts of it until my 3 kids all ended up reading it in high school. I really enjoyed hearing about the book again from their perspective, and that, coupled with your excellent review, makes me want to revisit it and Faulkner in general.

    Those classic writers do, for the most part, deserve their reputation.