Monday, August 29, 2011

As I Lay Dying

I attacked As I Lay Dying, not as a leisurely read, but as a code to be cracked. I've been frightened of Faulkner for many years now, but as it turns out, my fear was misplaced. I should have been dreading Thomas Wolfe instead.

This was actually a really fast read: I read it in only a few hours on Saturday and Sunday, holding the book in my left hand, ta
king notes with my right. I like to give myself the occasional literary challenge in my efforts to call myself "well-read." This was one of those challenges (although it seems to be on the required reading lists of many high school sophomores... I guess I'm a decade overdue). My favorite kind of book is one in which I can forget myself and become lost in the pages; this was definitely not that. This was a book where I had to be focused the whole time, read and re-read passages, flip back a few pages, consult my notes, and pause to ponder.

I hate this book's cover. What is with that lady's expression? And did some old woman answer an ad to be the "weird dying lady on the cover of As I Lay Dying?" This weirdo cover with the weird depiction of Addie Bundren kind of fits well with the characters inside it, though... it's hard to enjoy a book when the characters are so crazy and unlikable.
But when it became clear that this was a complicated family, that each person had secrets and greedy motivations, it finally began to intrigue me. Of course, I was intrigued by the past liaison between Reverend Whitfield and Addie, and Jewel, the result of that affair. What would it be like to be the illegitimate son in a passel of legitimate children.... the physical embodiment of your mother's greatest sin? And Dewey Dell fascinated me, too. Her mother just died, but she can focus only on her own secret pregnancy.

One thing I liked about Faulkner's writing was that he does an excellent job of "showing" instead of "telling." Nothing drives me more nuts than when an author feels like they need to write to the lowest common denominator of human intelligence (or maybe t
hese authors are the lowest common denominator). I read a book recently in which the characters explained every possible thing via dialogue to the other characters--even parents and siblings--who should already know this background information. If it's there just for the benefit of the reader, and not for the benefit of the story, I want to throw the book down in disgust. That's not what dialogue is for! That's not what a person's inner stream-of-consciousness is for! In my daily thoughts, I don't try to explain my life to potential readers or listeners... I just think, daydream, wonder, unfiltered. Faulkner's writing uses a lot of stream-of-consciousness and I liked how he makes the reader fill in the gaps, as it should be. It struck me as a realistic representation of a person's inner monologue.

Grade: 3/5 stars. Now I'm ready to go to Faulkner country: Oxford, MS.

Here is the family tree I created from my notes. High schoolers, feel free to print this for your English classes.


Introverted Jen said...

I think I've read one short story by Faulkner. And that makes me almost TWO decades overdue. Don't tell anyone. I should make it my personal goal to read some Southern classics this year.

PavlĂ­na said...

20 years after getting my Prague U degree in English (and Czech), I returned to this book. Amazing! The most exciting question for me lies in Darl´s madness. When he defends Jewel from a passer-by with an open knife, he looks perfectly sane - and this happens after he has burned down Gillespie´s barn! He can nevertheless go really insane, realizing that his family members are giving him up in order to avoid paying for the destroyed property. The border between sanity and insanity appears incredibly thin, the whole motif terribly scary, and very few writers skilled enough to muse about it. Faulkner ranks among these exceptions.