on January 11, 2008
This is the first Faulkner novel I have read, after grinding through a few of his shorts like "A Rose For Emily". I've become a huge fan of Cormac McCarthy, who is oft described as Faulknerian, so I decided to give his long prose a chance. AS I LAY DYING was one of the darkest, most soul crushing, and oddly humorous, books I have ever read. I don't think I've ever despised a character as much as Anse Bundren. I hate him from basically his introduction.
I've never been left as staggered as I was after reading AS I LAY DYING. I finished the book basically after my second year English class, having just studied Paradise Lost, sitting at a desk on the campus library's fourth floor, looking out the window as it snowed.
Hell of an experience.
on March 1, 2004
Much has been said about America's great writer, William Faulkner, and about this novel in particular. He is a great craftsman of fiction. Of all American writers, he perfected the use of that stream of consciousness narration we all heard about in English Literature 101. His fascination with the "grotesque" and with the legacy of the Civil War in the South has been covered time and time again. But I think AS I LAY DYING has one other element going for it that doesn't appear as prominently in the others, and that is the power or lack of power of language.
The "I" in William Faulkner's AS I LAY DYING, is Addie Bundren. And while the book is about her death and her family's obligation to bury her miles away in her hometown, Addie's voice is only given one chapter, and that chapter is in the dead center of the book. Flares and sirens should be going off. All the chapters surrounding this central one are remarkable examples of inarticulation, including the famous one-sentence chapter from the youngest Bundren, Vardaman: "My mother is a fish." Addie, however, in her brief chapter, has much to say about everyone, including herself. Her last statement, however, while her devout neighbor tries to force her to repent, points out the impotence of language; that salvation and damnation are just words. Compare this to Dickens' belief in the moralizing power of novels. Dickens believed that his art would have a beneficial effect on his society; think of all the times he addresses his readers and implores them to listen to him and learn. Less than a century later, Faulkner admits that in the end, salvation or damnation is "just a word."
But after having said all that, I don't want you to think that this novel is a mere screen for Faulkner's philosphy. This is a novel, after all, and a great one at that. Quick moving (once you get the hang of the swift shifting from one narrator to the other) and darkly humorous, AS I LAY DYING is loaded with great characters and character studies. It's not without its pathos but given the subject matter, it's to be expected. This is a great place to start, if you've never read Faulkner. Or anything from the 20th century south.
on November 20, 2001
I read this for English class and loved it so obsessively that the minute I finished the last page, I turned back to the first page and literally read it all over again.
What fascinated me about this book is, of course, the complex, well-formed, cynical characters, and above all the relationships they had with each other.
This book is about SIBLINGS, which is a loaded topic, much under-appeciated in film and literature. Sibling relationships are subtle, elusive, obligatory and voluntary at the same time.
We see that Darl is obviously the most eloquent, intelligent, worldly and educated member of the family and we trust his perspective, yet he idolizes his simpleton brother Cash, believeing their relatoinship to be a very close one. This is ultimately Darl's tragic flaw.
He also tends to spend more time with the youngest of the Bundrel clan, Vardaman, taking him aside just to talk. This kind of intimate detail would be overlooked by a lesser author, but speaks volume about Darl's character. He is not plotting against his family; indeed he is trying to save them.
The big debate happening in my class was regarding the possibly inappropriate relationship between Darl and Dewey Dell. Dewey Dell is sexualized throughout the novel but whether her relationship with Darl was incestuous is up to the read to decide.
And of course Jewel. Jewel is cold and withdrawn, but burns inside with love for his mother.
The absurd journey they take and the cruel knowledge the reader garners from Addie about the true nature of her final wish is a perfect set-up for pathos, with futility and loss emenating so acutely from these pathetic characters.
The book was fascinating, the characters were rich and ugly, and Faulkner's innovative style is unforgettable.
on April 22, 2004
I've read three of Faulkner's great novels, "Absalom, Absalom!" "The Sound and the Fury," and this one. Of the three, "As I Lay Dying" is the easiest and perhaps the most fun. Actually, after about the first 10 pages or so, the storyline is pretty easy to figure out. The only thing difficult is differentiating and remembering all the character names and associating the characters with their actions. Taking notes might actually be helpful. A family tree in the beginning would have been helpful too, but I'm sure Faulkner would have objected. Faulkner forces you to figure out simple things like gender, relative age, and familial relationships without giving you too many clues, but things soon become clear. Of the three Faulkner novels I've read, this is by far the funniest, and has a great punchline at the end. A must read for Faulkner fans, and if you're going to dive in to his works, this is a great place to start.
on July 7, 2013
I read "As I Lay Dying" many years ago and at that time was blown away by the powerful narratives of the characters. But at that time I didn't really understand or appreciate the passions of the characters so strongly depicted by Faulkner. Recently, the title appeared in my Amazon listing of what other people were reading and I thought after 20 years it might be a good idea to reread it from a more mature stance. I was not disappointed. From the moment I read the first words I was hooked. It was as though I had never read this incredible American classic. I had new insights into the characters and the whole atmosphere of the book. What a writer. The rereading has encouraged me to read some of his other books. I would recommend this book highly to those who have never read it and to those who read it years ago.
on January 16, 2004
I started reading Faulkner because I never did in school, and as a writer myself, it just felt like I ought to be able to say, "I've read Faulkner."
Well, he's not easy. They don't call him the Master of Repetition for nothin'!
But, of the 3-4 of his books I've read, this one is imminently readable, funny as only Faulkner can be funny, tragic and pathetic as only Faulker can be tragic and patheticand as always, it's a helluva good story.
If you've never read Faulkner before, start with this one.
on April 18, 2004
This is at least the third or fourth time that I've read this book. The first two or three times were over 30 years ago in Literature classes. Then I was impressed by the writing. Today after many years of living I am still impressed by the writing, but even more so I am impressed by the understanding that Faulkner had for people. Anse is still the feckless, malicious, narcisist that gets me so incredibly angry that I wish he were real so I could use a baseball bat on him. (Not that I would do such a thing). But I find that he's more than just an evil character as Darl is more than the poet/philospher "good" character gone nuts and then betrayed. All of the characters are as human as can be with incredibly rich inner lives that can't be articulated in the world that they inhabit. . . Everyone has some kind of depth to them. It's just that it takes art to reveal that depth as fully as can be. And that I think is the value of a book like this. Read the book and try to feel what the characters are feeling. Oh my God! Does that mean our President has depth??
on August 12, 2003
The audacity of "As I Lay Dying" may be somewhat diluted today, but can you imagine what readers must have felt when this first hit bookstands? I don't know that before this novel there was ever another narrative so fragmented by different points of view. Sure, other books existed that switched perspectives from one character to another--even Faulkner's own "The Sound and the Fury" did that--but in "As I Lay Dying," Faulkner takes the conceit and stretches it almost to its extreme limit. The sheer number of characters and the frequency with which the novel shifts from one perspective to another pretty much eliminates any chance the reader has of forming an objective point of view on the events in the narrative. And that's the point. Much of "As I Lay Dying"'s purpose is to illustrate that there is no one accurate account of an event, since accounts are always going to be filtered through the psyches of those relating them. Just as in this novel each member of the Bundren family has his or her own motives for the trip to Jefferson (besides the primary stated motive of burying their dead wife and mother), so does each family member have their own accounts of what happens, who does what, who's at fault, etc.
This refusal on Faulkner's part to offer his readers a tidy plot with all loose ends tied up can be disorienting and frustrating to some. I know Faulkner has a notorious reputation for being difficult. However, this novel was my first introduction to Faulkner, and I didn't struggle that much with it. I think a key to understanding Faulkner is to know that he wants to communicate with his readers, he just doesn't want to do it in the convential way. If you keep an open mind and are willing to stay with him without giving up, I think you'll find reading him an immensely rewarding experience, as his stories are emotional, gripping and powerful.
In my opinion, this book is a must read for everyone interested in American literature.
on March 25, 2003
Because of its relative brevity and "surface" accessibility, this novel often winds up being the sole Faulkner encounter for many readers. And it fascinates, even puts its hooks in, readers with its grotesque situations and dark humor. But Faulkner's fable about human encounters with death resonates because below the "story-level" quest of putting Addie Bundren's corpse to rest is the deep-structure quest of the human struggle for "meaning," of finding words that represent and give shape to human experience.
Addie hates words because they separate her from their referents, from the experience itself, increasing her sense of loneliness. But it's her words that assure her presence in the consciousness of all of the other characters--most notably Darl, who inherits her facility with language. She tricks not only her own family but the reader as well into confronting the loss that both death and language entail. As a representation of experience, or as the "presence of absence," words distinguish Addie and Darl from all of the other characters, marking them as the only characters who can think abstractly and honestly. The cost is, in Addie's case, extinguishing loneliness only in death; in Darl's, becoming estranged from a "sane" social order. The gain--probably for Addie, Darl, Faulkner, and the attentive reader--is the knowledge that your dead mother can be neither a horse nor a fish.
(I hate to add another, explanatory paragraph. But as Faulkner knows, words are a curse and a blessing. They threaten to isolate us from the "external" world of experience, but they are unavoidable in our attempts to represent--"re-presence"--the meanings that are always fading from our grasp. Vardamon's deciding that Addie is a "fish" and Jewel's designation of her as a "horse" are two versions of the childish, rudimental and perfunctory uses of language by human beings who seek simple problems and solutions in life--from suffering and death to complex and challenging relationships. Compare such language to Saddam's calling America a serpent and Dubya's designating problematic nations as an "axis of evil.")
on November 23, 2002
Toss out all the high-faulting chatter on 'modernism' and 'symbiology' and other meaningless semantics academics use to justify their own misunderstandings. All that really serves to do is to stun an author's humanity into intellectual encryptions that serve only to bring their originality down to the presumed levels of the student who wishes to generalize all style into an accessible genre. No, Faulkner was more than a contributor to some mechinized stylistic that was rampaging through the imitators, but a brazen and unique story-teller who was interested in individual perspectives (of his characters and, more to the point I am making, of his readers as well . . .)
As I Lay Dying, I believe, surpasses The Sound and the Fury in this approach, taking a far more exciting premise and spreading it out into the minds of every character who rambles along to form an opinion on what and why the Burden family is doing what they're doing. While The Sound and the Fury was a dense, often confusing piece (trying spending 80 pages in the winding maze of a not just retarded but deranged character's mind and, no matter how impressed with the reality of the words, it becomes increasingly difficult to understand anything, contradictions with the other character's thoughts notwithstanding), As I Lay Dying is very straight-forward, a complex attempt at 'high-literature' written as a low-brow, lower-class Southern crime story.
The book is at times unexpectedly moving and at other times horrifyingly funny with scenes you find yourself laughing at as much from discomfort and disgust as from the antics and absurdity being described.
My favorite of Faulkner's books (thus far, as I intend to bleed the well until I hate him), it was the first time I'd been more than just impressed and felt myself graduated into the realm of being something like a fan--