As I Lay Dying

Monday, June 18, 2012


As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
★★★★

Faulkner, why do you make my brain spin in such a disorienting way? This novel, like many of Faulkner’s books, has multiple narrators telling a story that is centered around one major event. In this case, Addie Bundren is dying and she has asked her husband and adult children to travel to another county in Mississippi with her body to bury her in her hometown when she dies.

The thing about Faulkner is that you often don’t know where you stand with his books. His work seems intentionally obtuse, almost like he doesn’t want you to understand what’s going on; he’s famous for this. His narrators are often unreliable, sometimes because they are lying to the reader and distorting the truth until it’s unrecognizable (Absalom, Absalom). Other times it’s because the narrators themselves are confused (The Sound and the Fury). In this book you have a bit of both. Everyone has their own agenda and they tell their story while hiding their secrets from each other and sometimes the reader.

I’ll admit, usually I’d prefer to know where I stand when I’m reading. There are certainly exceptions to this, but I tend to prefer narrators that I can trust. I really struggled to follow the flow of this book. I knew what was going on, but keeping everyone (and their back stories and motivations) straight is difficult. There are so many characters and as we progress across the state with Addie’s coffin in tow, we learn how each character has reached this point in their lives. None of them seem happy with their lot in life and it’s not hard to understand why.

The thing that always redeems Faulkner’s work for me is the descriptions. The writing is just so beautiful and that far outweighs the disjointed plot. His writing is poetic and since I struggle with poetry to begin with, it’s no hard to see why Faulkner is a stretch for me.

BOTTOM LINE:
Absolutely worth reading, it’s an American classic, but go into it knowing Faulkner is going to take you for a ride. Sit back and enjoy the words that will take you there and don’t get too stressed about the details along the way.
 
“I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind -- and that of the minds who suffer the bereavement. The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town.”

19 comments:

Jeanne said...

How can you not like a book with a chapter that says "my mother is a fish"?!

annieb said...

I have had this book on my bookshelf for a long time and now I think I might get to it, soon. That quote blew me away.

Dale said...

I haven't read Faulkner in years mostly because trying to figure out "The Sound and The Fury" drove me crazy. I loved "Light In August" though! A few of his short stories were good, too.

Amanda said...

So back in high school, I wrote a lot of stories in a stream-of-consciousness style, without even knowing said style existed. It was really awesome to have to read this book in my junior year and to realize not everyone wrote in the straight style that had been presented to me my whole life. There were people who broke the mold! Who experimented! I was excited! So I have particular love for this book. It helped that we read it and discussed it in class, so I had a bit of a grounding to go on. Later, I read The Sound and the Fury on my own, and it didn't work as well for me because I didn't have that grounding so much. Plus, I just think it's that much more difficult. I haven't read anything else by him yet.

Kristi said...

I have the Sound and the Fury on my bookshelf, but I'm embarrassed to admit that I am TERRIFIED of Faulkner. I think I'll take your advice to just not stress the details while reading. I still might wait until next year. I'm not quite ready. :)

Trish said...

I had a terribly tough time with this one! I had only read Faulkner for college courses so when I tried to read this one on my own I felt...so alone! And lost! And annoyed with Sparknotes (thinking--really? that's what happened?). I think it's one of those that I'll just have to re-read in a few years. Sound and the Fury is still my favorite but don't know if I could have done that one alone either!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jeanne - Ha, yes Faulkner is one of a kind.

annieb - The writing really is amazing, but it's tough to follow!

Dale - Light In August is next on my list. I'm hoping that one might work better for me.

Amanda - That is awesome! I felt that way about Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. I read it in high school and I had no idea nonfiction could be so enthralling. I became a journalist later and that was the first time I realized that my style of writing already existed and it helped me focus what I wanted to do. It was such a great discovery.

Kriti - Seriously, he's kinda scary.

Trish - I never read Faulkner for anything connected with school or a class. I think that might have helped me. His style is just a stretch for me.

Allie said...

This is one of my most absolutely favorite books of all time. I read it shortly before my grandfather died, and it just spoke to me. It's what made me a lover of Faulkner and that style of writing.


And I just love Vardaman.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Allie - Sometimes timing really is everything. Books can just speak to you when you're going through something that's somehow connected to the plot. And Vardaman is in a class of his own.

Biblibio said...

I read this one a few years back, and haven't approached Faulkner since. I liked As I Lay Dying but it was a surprisingly difficult book to read - emotionally and mentally. I realize now that I just wasn't prepared for that Faulkner style (which I had never encountered until then). I still haven't figured out which Faulkner novel I should read next, but your post reminded me that I should read another Faulkner book, and soon.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Biblibio - Difficult is the perfect way to describe it. Wonderful, but hard to get through.

Care said...

I read The Sound and the Fury and really should re-read it someday. I only recall that I liked it, tho whether or not I 'got' it, I cannot say.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Care - I feel that way about all of his work, that there's always a little bit that I might be missing.

Jenners said...

I'm scared of Faulkner for all the reasons you mentioned but perhaps I should try -- I'll just make sure I'm well rested before attempting him.

FABR Steph said...

Wonderful review. The thing that stands out about this book is how well Faulkner used multiple narrators. It does not always work, but in this case it added amazing insight on the different perspectives.

Rob said...

It took me about half of this book before I could differentiate between many of the characters. I really liked it by the time I finished, but I can't say I felt that way throughout the whole book.

Beautiful language, though. That's what kept me going.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jenners - It helps to know what to expect I think. Whenever you try him you'll be a bit more prepared than I probably was the first time I read him.

FABR Steph - The different perspectives are hard to pull off, but they can give such depth to a story.

Rob - I agree, the language makes it all worth it.

Joseph said...

I think to really get Faulkner you need to read...and then immediately re-read, but personally, I've got too many on the TBR to invest that much in one book. He has grown on me a bit, and gets a bit easier...but still not a huge fan.
my review: http://100greatestnovelsofalltimequest.blogspot.com/2013/03/as-i-lay-dying-by-william-faulkner-1930.html

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Joseph - I agree. He's such a hard author to "get". I just keep trying though.