Nicholas Armstrong's Reviews > As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
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Feb 21, 2010

did not like it
Read from February 21 to March 03, 2010

"And since sleep is is-not and rain and wind are was, it is not. Yet the wagon is, because when the wagon is was, Addie Bundren will not be. And Jewel is, so Addie Bundren must be. And then I must be, or I could not empty myself for sleep in a strange room. And so if I am not emptied yet, I am is."
............ There are people who actually like this?

Seriously though, I'm pretty sure I get it, I just don't like it. There is a family and each one is a reflection of a way of living, or in some cases, a way of dying. Anse is the 'woe is me' type and Addie is the 'Serve your purpose and die' type and that's all well and good, and it's a pretty cool idea for a book, I just don't like Faulkner. Do you know that skill has very little to do with the process of inventing a concept? I'm still not entirely convinced that Faulkner is the genius he is made out to be. In fact, I'm not entirely convinced I should like him at all. Based off his biography he is kind of a pathetic, lying, failure - so what am I supposed to think of his writing?

Stream-of-consciousness is one thing, writing in Faulkner's way is another. Scenes are dropped onto our heads in ways we cannot comprehend and actions are portrayed without explanation. And do you know the unfairest cut of all? Faulkner knows what he is trying to say, he knows all about these characters, he just isn't showing us anything. An example: originally there were no names at the beginning of the chapters. Yeah, no kidding. He just wrote this shit with no explanation of our speaker and expected us to figure it out. That is not genius. Writing is about making a connection to a stranger, bridging a gap of confusion to create understanding and to share an idea, a theme, an image with thousands or millions of people who you've never met. Faulkner writes in jargon he understands with little to no respect for the reader and I can't forgive him for it. If you don't believe me then write something. Write a short story. Write 3, or 4, or 5 pages. Flesh out the characters and their histories and their conflicts. Got it? Okay, now when you are writing a scene with multiple people use only the pronoun he. You will know who you are talking about - do we? Is that good writing? No, it isn't.

It is easy to be confusing. It is easy to write something beautiful and understandable for yourself. It's hard to write universal words which we can all connect.

Good idea, Faulkner, poor performance.
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02/02/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-25 of 25) (25 new)

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message 1: by Faye (new) - rated it 1 star

Faye I completely agree with you. It's not genius to write like this - it's pretentious. Ignorant hillbillies do not think in flowery prose, using words you only learn in college lit courses. I get the feeling that he thought to himself, "If I can confuse the reader enough by taking out the names, not explaining what's happening, and using a complex thought process in my characters' minds to explain very basic ideas, maybe they'll think that only a genius can understand it, and I'll be called one of the greatest writers of my time!" Sadly, it seems to have worked.

Nicholas Armstrong I've read three of his novels so far, and each one has the same existentialist voice. I suppose it ties into a larger theme of his, but each of his characters blends into a stew of meaningless plot devices and metaphors for larger ideas. He lost the most important thing about a story though, which is the characters. And, sadly, he is considered to be a genius.

Perrystroika There are fifteen different narrators but they all sound the same. And while many times like they sound like what they're supposed to be, poor rural folks, other times Faulkner can't resist a showy allusion or metaphor, he violates the integrity of the voice. I think of one instance where one character, I think it might be Darling or even Vardaman, compares a the sight of men fighting the fire burning the barn down to a "Greek frieze", which is kind of arty talk for who this is supposed to be.

Nicholas Armstrong A few critics have talked about it before, but they all just kind of ignore the fact that no character ever talks exactly as they should. Children talk like adults; educated hicks talk like 18th century well-read philosophers. It's one of those things that people who like it ignore, and people who don't, like me, can't stand.

message 5: by Barbara (new) - added it

Barbara Bogle Terrific review. Your About Me makes points about storytelling and character development that, to my taste in fiction, are spot-on accurate. You have to read American Pastoral.

Nicholas Armstrong Well thanks much. I try not to be too inflammatory and I know I sometimes fail, but I do appreciate that sometimes I'm actually making a point.

I will definitely give American Pastoral a go. I'm always trying to broaden my horizons.

message 7: by Joseph (new) - added it

Joseph Robles nice review nicholas. i actually stopped after a hundred pages of "The Sound and the Fury" i couldn't stand it. I was about to give Faulkner a chance with this one but then again I thought, maybe not...

Bryden Mcgarry The passage that you quoted in your review is the passage when I finally said "That's it, I cannot read anymore!"

message 9: by Rae (new) - rated it 3 stars

Rae Swain Funny it was that exact same quote for me too...

Victoria Bah! Agree with you 100%

message 11: by Kevin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kevin I got as far as the paragraph on page 59, which is something to do with bananas and bicycles, and includes this passage - "Bananas are gone, eaten. Gone. When it runs on the track shines again."Why ain't I a town boy Pa?" I said god made me. I did not said to God to made me in the country. If he can make the train, why can't he make them all in the town because flour and sugar and coffee. "Wouldn't you ruther have bananas?" "

Heather Kevin, (hey that's my husbands name :-) That was exactly the paragraph I was going to quote here. I reread it..three times. I thought to myself, "man..that's some ADHD."
I wanted to fall in love with this book, but I couldn't. I didn't think it was an awful novel, but it wasn't in a writing style I enjoy. I also don't jive with Virginia W. In the end, I think everyone is different, and while some people worship this book, along with the writing style, I'm afraid I simply cannot.

message 13: by Kevin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kevin Hi Heather. I know he's supposed to be one of the American greats, but come on! , this is an atrocious piece of pretentious nonsense. IMHO.
Top review by the way Nicholas. Spot on Sir.

message 14: by Kate (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kate I loved the book and I loved your critique of it. I don't share the same viewpoint, but I respect that you managed to put your personal dislike of the novel into clear and coherent sentences, instead of simply writing something like "I don't even know what he is saying".

As far as the sentence you quoted, I am one of those people who did really like it. I am not sure if you read to the end of the novel, but the character who spoke that line was Darl and at the very end of the book a lot of the things that Darl is saying or thinking make a lot of sense.

message 15: by Amber (new)

Amber Dunten I've never read Faulkner, but if that's typical, I'm not wasting my time. I have a feeling I would very quickly be saying, "Fuck you, Faulkner!"

Jaime I think the quote you wrote there explains one of the things Faulkner wanted to do in this book: replicate the human thinking/mind. Sometimes even we don't understand what we are thinking, or we just don't know how to put in words what we are feeling. Our thinking tends to be incoherent sometimes. Phrases like that weren't so much for us to understand, but to add the psychological truth the book was going for.

message 17: by Chin (new)

Chin Jian xiong "Writing is about making a connection to a stranger." I have a heck a ton of problems with this narrow assertion of Literature and also your idea of what is 'easy' and 'hard' to write in Literature, but Im not going to contend on that. The thing you have to know about Faulkner is that he works more or less entirely by Ear, like Shakespeare or Kerouac or his later protege Cormac McCarthy. The example you gave was actually beautifully rhythmic in its verbal loopage. Secondly Faulkner doesnt just write stream of consciousness as can just as easily do a straightforward sounding story like A Rose for Emily, but he can cross over just as easily into spiel. A later Southern Gothic writer like McCarthy cant do this as well. This also isnt a form of withholding information for the reader but making it known in a different manner. Ive tried writing in the Faulknerian/Joycean register before and its very easy to fall into a stream of lost control and unfocus like Kerouac does, but to maintain the register, and to weave a complex psychological tale of the South at the same time, and to be able to alternate between all these styles so easily, as most powerfully exemplified by the four narrators of Sound and the Fury, is serious guts. I hate your way of simplifying his writing into 'gibberish'. To do pure gibberish and stream for a whole thematically unified novel is, i realize, impossible, or rather very grating on the author. Unless one was trying meditative automatic writing in the form of the Surrealists, no author woulde ever throw themselves into pure gibberish withour intellect, not even the craziest book of Joyce. Borges characterized Faulkner as being not only poetically beautiful but profoundly human and Im keen to agree.

message 18: by Monica Young (new)

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message 19: by Kevin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kevin Pure Faulkner Monica

Bogdan Rat I took a look at some of your ratings (I used the "compare books" button and it was enough for me to understand what kind of reader your are) and, honestly, I'm only surprised by your rating on "The sun also rises" by Hemingway, since you wrote "It is easy to be confusing. It is easy to write something beautiful and understandable for yourself. It's hard to write universal words which we can all connect. " . Hemingway does that, so what seems to be the problem there? Don't tell me you didn't understand this book either. Or with East of Eden aswell, not to mention that you give Dante 2 stars and Fahrenheit451 5 stars.

"There are people who actually like this?"
I actually loved that part

"Based off his biography he is kind of a pathetic, lying, failure - so what am I supposed to think of his writing?"
You should review his writing not his personality/character/way of being or whatever, unless you want to be considered an ignorant, wich you obviously are.

I agree that a genius would prove his mastery by writing in such a way that everyone would understand.But every great writer should write the way he wants to write, without thinking whether ignorants will understand him or not.

"Faulkner knows what he is trying to say, he knows all about these characters, he just isn't showing us anything"
Instantly I thought about "Absalom, Absalom!" and that you should take a look at it before I saw your rating on it. Speculation, presumtions are far more rewarding than a linear exposure of the events and this is wonderfully exemplified in that novel.

"Faulkner writes in jargon he understands with little to no respect for the reader and I can't forgive him for it"
He writes in the way he thinks it fits best with the subject.

"Seriously though, I'm pretty sure I get it"
Believe me, you don't get anything. Everyone says they get it but don't like it, thats they're way to defend against something they don't understand. If you would understand it, you would appreciate the writing even though you don't like it. One could not like a book, but that doesn't mean he should make fun of it. By doing that he only makes fun of himself.

I'm not Faulkner biggest fan, but I do appreciate his original, unique wtyle and I actually enjoyed very much some of his books, like The sound and the fury, Absalom, Absalom! and ofcourse As I lay dying, wich is mindblowing.

Kristine "...There are people who actually like this?" "...There are people in the world with different opinions and tastes than me!?" no wai man. no wai. Really I respect you don't dig Faulkner's style I'm just harping on you because your review is one of the most upvoted.

ryan mattingly It's easy to be intimidated by the work of a genius. I bet you don't like Cormac McCarthy either.

Kathleen I'm so glad to read that many reviewers of 'As I Lay Dying' have the same opinion as I do. I was afraid to rate the book one star until I saw/read Nicholas' review, thank you! I will read no further Faulkner books there are just too many other fabulous tomes to immerse oneself in and enjoy!

message 24: by Kevin (new) - rated it 1 star

Kevin Totally agree Kathleen. We are all entitled to our own opinions. Some people love Faulkner, good for them. I don't, and no one could convince me he's a genius.

Stuh217 I'm just going to put this out here based on your "review." You actually really DON'T get it. A lot of Faulkner's writing have allusions to Antebellum and post Civil War Southern history. Which seems entirely lost on you. Scenes are not dropped out of nowhere with no explanation. In Faulkner's case, if you don't get the meaning of characters actions by the end of the book, that's not his fault. Its yours. Reread the book. "Genius" writing is not writing that should be so simply understood.

Your review has as much legitimacy as someone saying Hemingway is terrible because "it's so boring and dumb and plain." Again, if you don't get it, it's no one's fault but your own (well, maybe an English teacher in your past bears some responsibility as well).

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