As I Lay Dying

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As I Lay DyingAs I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
Published: 1930

I tried to read this once before, but I eventually gave up after some confusion. I had the same issues this time around to begin with, but I decided to persevere.

The plot is fairly simple, actually. It’s set in the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha, Mississippi, and it follows the family of newly deceased Addie Bundren as they try to uphold her wish to be buried in the town of Jefferson. Never has a book been so simple and yet so bloody confusing. The plot is straight-forward, and the writing isn’t too hard to follow, especially compared to some other stream-of-consciousness writing, but I’ll be damned if I could figure out who was who for the first half of the book. There are over a dozen viewpoint characters, and a few supporting characters as well, so would it have killed Faulkner to use a few proper nouns once in a while?

He sarcastically claimed to have written this in six weeks and never edited a word of it, though apparently the reality was still a respectable eight weeks, and I’m wondering if my trouble differentiating between characters for the first half of the book was because it took a while for them to each find a unique voice. It’s that or I’m just an idiot, one of the two (don’t let the Nobel Committee sway your decision, it could still be him).

Beyond the initial confusion, I actually grew to really enjoy this. And even when I was having a hard to remembering character relationships (or even gender), the writing was still interesting and touching and at times even quite funny. It’s not a fast-paced novel, but once you get going it flows really well and is fairly easy to read.

He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear.

Most of the characters are either despicable or infuriating, sometimes both, even in the case of the dead mother. Most of the family, especially her husband Anse and their son Cash, have a pride and sense of honour that extends well into idiotic and self-destructive. They’re all simple characters, but they do feel surprisingly well-developed near the end of the novel. I especially enjoyed Vardaman, the youngest boy in the family, and how he struggled to understand the death of his mother with both tragic and hilarious results. He ends up relating the situation to that of a fish he had gutted before her death.

My mother is a fish.

Near the end, there’s a chapter from the point of view of a character that’s gone mad. It’s written in third-person as if he’s watching himself and trying to understand why he’s acting in such a way. I’ve read quite a few novels with multiple viewpoints, and I thought that was a really interesting idea that I don’t remember seeing before.

Halfway in, I was thinking that once I’d finished this book I was done with Faulkner forever, but now I’m thinking I might try once more. Maybe it just took me a while to figure him out.

7 thoughts on “As I Lay Dying

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