Adrian Stumpp's Reviews > As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
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Jan 11, 10

bookshelves: american, fiction, modern
Read in January, 2010

Faulkner reportedly claimed that his legacy would rise or fall on the reputation of this novel. The novel, combined with Faulkner's estimation of it, leaves me somewhat ambivolent. Told in the highly individuated and at times absurdly subjective first-person monologues of fifteen different characters, As I Lay Dying is difficult to follow, to say the least. Faulkner plays with the meaning/meaninglessness of language, experiments with a fragmented point-of-view, capitalization, italics, and punctuation, and utilizes a non-teleological chronology. The fame of the novel would suggest that all of these high-modernist window-dressings would be working towards the novel's purpose, either thematically or structurally, but I can't say this is true.

The italics for example seem to be arbitrary and meaningless. I thought at first they were used instead of a tense shift to differentiate between the present and the future, but upon further review, this doesn't hold water. The best explanation for the italicized passages I have been able to find suggests the italicized text represents ideas the characters find impossible to put into rational language. If this is right, the failure belongs to Faulkner for forcing "unspeakable" things into language. If Faulkner believed the ineptness of language to be something impossible to rise above, he perhaps ought to have chosen a more suitable vocation.

On the other hand, the novel has a lot going for it. The characterizations, the cadence and rhythm of the prose, the extended symbolism, and the tragicomic pathos of the plot are all excellent. So excellent, in fact, they make me wish Faulkner would have utilized his talents and written a damn good novel instead of subverting the "story" elements to the modernist experimentations that have come to define the novel, and that seem to me to be the most meaningless and superfluous components of the story. Rather than ellucidating and ellevating the novel, these tricks do more to damage what otherwise would have been an excellent story told excellently by an excellent writer. Faulkner's tragedy with As I Lay Dying is his inability to recognize and value what was wonderful about the work. He wrongfully values braver gadgets that undermine his genius and reduce the novel from a first rate work of genius to an oddity and a curio of twentieth century southern literature.

The question this novel makes me ask myself is: "Is an aborted god still a god, or is an aborted god still an abortion?"
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Reading Progress

01/06/2010 page 152
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Comments (showing 1-3 of 3) (3 new)

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message 1: by Ben (new) - rated it 4 stars

Ben Excellent review. I am completely convinced it's time for me to reread this book.


Adrian Stumpp I hope you do. After hearing about your enthusiasm over Absalom, Absalom! I'd be interested to know how you interpret As I Lay Dying. I was deeply humbled and thoroughly impressed by how well he individuated each narrator. All fifteen have an authentic, unique voice. Never does it feel as though he is overreaching. I have read a handful of novels told in this fashion, but none as good as this one, in that regard.


Trenton Judson Wow! Adrian! That is quite a review! I just read the book and was about to write my own and I'm a little intimidated after reading yours! You are an articulate individual and I sure appreciate this review. Thanks buddy!


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