RandomAnthony's Reviews > As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
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Jul 29, 10


** spoiler alert ** Ok, this is the first review on which I’ve ever hit the “spoiler” tab, but I don’t know how to review this book without spoilers. You know the drill. Stop reading if you’d like.

Holy hell, As I Lay Dying is a great book. I needed about thirty pages to get into Faulkner’s rhythms (and, uh, finally figure out that each chapter was narrated by the character titling said chapter), but once I caught onto the cadence I read the novel in four feverish days sequestered in one of my second floor’s air conditioned bedrooms. While I don’t I want to read any Faulkner now, too intense one after the other, this novel elicited physical reactions I can’t quite describe. What do I mean? Well, there were moments reading this book when, if I were a cartoon character, my mouth would make a big “O” and my jaw would fall to the floor with a crash. Either the language (“wet seed wild in the hot blind earth”) or some characters’ actions would bring on this condition. While I don’t think my wife or kids would care too much, I wanted to grab someone by the shoulders and say, “Holy FUCK! They’re going to do WHAT with that body? You’re shitting me!” The simple storyline of hauling a dead woman across a county through some bad weather while vultures follow becomes absolutely gripping.

I had questions when I finished:

• What was up with Anse? Why was he such a lazy asshole?
• Was Darl nuts or trying to break out of the family’s dysfunction? Why did he burn down that barn? Was that a sane act, really, despite the fact he’s perceived as insane?
• What was up with Cash and his focus on building the coffin for the first half of the book?

This novel will not comfort you. But some passages and characters haunted me. I loved Addie’s chapter, where she talks about hating all the kids she teaches and embodies the white-knuckle tight tension possessing the family. She almost seems proud of the tension, really, or at least wanting to grab the tension and knock some people over the head with it. There’s a hardness to the Bundrens that transcends any southern profile; this is deep, human hardness, across cultures, the primal and primitive and terrifying and potentially Dionysian wordless humanity but here mostly an almost impossible to express yelp of horror. Faulkner’s genius lies in the way his characters articulate and act out this darkness so the difficult to describe comes a little closer to clarity, whether the reader likes it or not. The Bundrens may be human beings, related to the rest of us by species, but holy shit, I sure hope they’re distant family.

I know more of Faulkner’s literary progeny (e.g. Cormac McCarthy) then of Faulkner. As I Lay Dying , published in 1930, must have blown the roof off of literary expectations at the time. This is a fantastic book I can’t entirely understand, one that leaves me snatching at the murk, with deep respect for its creator.
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Comments (showing 1-7 of 7) (7 new)

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message 1: by D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

D. Pow Good shit, Random Tony.


Eddie Watkins I love this book, and I have to relate this... way back when I told my younger brother he had to read it because I loved it so much and just wanted to share the experience. He read it, but being an engineer in profession and in soul instead of reading it has Faulkner organized it he read ALL of each character's chapters in turn, i.e. he read all the Cash chapters, then he read all the Anse chapters, then all the Darl chapters, etc. I was so disappointed I've never recommended another book to him.


message 3: by D. (new) - rated it 5 stars

D. Pow Heh. That is a funny story. It hurts like hell when those we love don't get what we love.


message 4: by Matt (last edited Jul 29, 2010 01:08PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt Very nice, RA. I'm pretty sure while I was reading this that I also said something like "Holy FUCK! Why did they put GODDAMNED CONCRETE on his leg!?!"

Don't quote me on this, but my thoughts on Darl are that he was the only sensible one in a family filled with either half-wits or emotional cripples. No one else saw the absurdity in what they were doing so that is why he was the only one emotionally traumatized by the situation. What he did makes pretty good sense in that "at the end of your rope" sort of way.


Ellen What an excellent review. I wish I remembered this book well enough to make an intelligent comment...


RandomAnthony Thanks, people!

Eddie, that's awesome. Once my type-A, way-up-in-Google brother in law wanted to read Grapes of Wrath. He asked me "how" he should read it. I said, uh, start on the first page and work toward the back. He said something like, "No, I want to make sure I understand it all." I wasn't quite sure how to reply, but I think he was sincere.

Tad, I see what you're saying about Darl. He's so trapped. I'd probably burn the fucking barn down, too, and hope that ends the trip...


Bram Great stuff, RA. And I'm with you on Darl, tadpole. But why (spoiler!) does Faulkner make him go crazy at the end? This still sort of annoys me and is probably the only thing (in my opinion) marring an otherwise brilliant dark, dark comedy.


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