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A Death in the Family

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  12,380 Ratings  ·  935 Reviews
The American classic-now available from Penguin for the first time

Published in 1957, two years after its author's death at the age of forty-five, A Death in the Family remains a near-perfect work of art, an autobiographical novel that contains one of the most evocative depictions of loss and grief ever written. As Jay Follet hurries back to his home in Knoxville, Tennesse
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 10th 2008 by Penguin Books (first published 1957)
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Reid Hopefully you carried on reading it. The relationships become much clearer. The reason it might seem a bit confusing is because it is written largely…moreHopefully you carried on reading it. The relationships become much clearer. The reason it might seem a bit confusing is because it is written largely from the perspective of a six-year-old boy, whose view of the world is filled with certain assumptions that any adult might consider in need of explanation, but a young boy does not. Keep reading. It's a very fine book.(less)
This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Jerilyn The little boy is thinking to himself, realizing that his uncle, who doesn't believe in God, seems to hate people who do believe in God. He is trying…moreThe little boy is thinking to himself, realizing that his uncle, who doesn't believe in God, seems to hate people who do believe in God. He is trying to work it out. The uncle obviously hates the priest for the way he treated the grieving widow, but don't we all feel that way? The boy is a little reassured that it must be okay to feel this way, since it was also his own reaction, even though he couldn't understand a word that was said behind closed doors. Then the boy thinks it goes deeper. His uncle doubts his own doubting faith, wonders if there is a God, if there is life after death, but he sees the uncle even rejecting these thoughts. People often hate what they fear, and many fear and reject religious faith in this way. It then manifests itself in hate for those who do believe. This uncle loves his mother, but his mother believes fervently, perhaps blindly, in ways that deepen her own pain and grief, adding the weight of guilt and regret. This angers her brother, the boy's uncle. It's really too bad he isn't a true believer who can comfort her with words of love and mercy from Jesus who came to save, to lift all burdens, to bring light in darkness. Of course, that should be the role of the priest; instead his rigidity and lack of compassion bring scandal, repelling doubters instead of drawing them to Christ. None of this is comprehensible to this very young child. Most of it is incomprehensible to many adults.(less)
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Oct 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classic-novels
Do you want to hear a joke? Too bad. I just read James Agee’s A Death in the Family and it’s so damn depressing that all I want to do is sit in a dark closet and tremble with existential angst. This is the kind of novel that makes me want to weep into my whiskey, but that would only tighten the spiral of depression. If you’re going to take anything while reading this book, it should certainly be cocaine.*

*Do not take cocaine while reading this book. Or probably any other book.

The best way to de
Jim Fonseca
Sep 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An oldie (1938) but a goodie. This book is a poster child for truth in advertising: it is precisely what its title tells us. A young husband and father is taken in the prime of life. As the family gathers in the house before the funeral, we hear every comforting word, every sob. We hear the prayers with the priest; we pick up the scent of flowers; we hear the empty condolences. A grief-stricken toddler daughter is hiding under the bed. They start loading the hearse.


In between these scenes we le
Aug 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
You May Ask Yourself...Am I Right? Am I Wrong? ....Same as it ever was; same as it ever was"
And you may ask yourself:
Do I Want to Feel the Loss of a fictional Close Family Member?

And you may tell yourself:
Might Help Me through Grieving

Letting the days go by, let the water hold me down ["Once in a Lifetime," Talking Heads]

Set primarily in east Tennessee, A Death in the Family won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for Lit. This book is among a handful that I could not finish reading after realizing where
May 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: public-library
Published after the death of the author, A Death in the Family won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958.  Classics have become classics for a reason.  Unfortunately, that fact provides no guarantee that every reader is going to love a given masterpiece.  Sadly, this is going to be the case here.  My rating is not a reflection of the quality of the writing, it is based solely on personal preference.

Very fine writing captured the devastating grief of the new widow, the confusion of her two small children, a
Julie Christine
When I told Brendan that I'd finished "A Death in the Family" he asked me how it made me feel. Not "What did you think of the book?" but "How did it make you feel?"

I felt those hideous, unspeakable emotions that arise when contemplating the death of a loved one. I felt the suffocating sorrow knowing the worst was yet to come for the characters: after the ceremonies end and friends and family slip away to return to their lives, you are left alone and the shock wears away to leave you hopeless an
Nov 05, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
James Agee, uomo del sud (Tennessee), nacque nel 1909 e morì giovane, a soli quarantacinque anni.

Fu scrittore, giornalista, poeta, sceneggiatore e critico, letterario prima e cinematografico dopo. Collaborò e firmò insieme ad altri la sceneggiatura di The African Queen, il celebre film di John Huston, e scrisse lo script di The Night of the Hunter-La morte corre sul fiume, capolavoro dell’attore e regista inglese Charles Laughton, che intervenne sul copione se non altro per
Sep 30, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Agee's autobiographical masterpiece was still in unfinished form when he died—a labour of love for him, he apparently tinkered with its content and structure endlessly. What he was producing was a remarkable, plenitudinous look at a relatively mundane subject: the effect of the death of a young, strong, and good man on his wife, children and family. We are introduced to this average, likeable Tennessee family—based upon Agee's own childhood—dealing with their daily share of struggles, troubles a ...more
James Agee was only six years old when his young father died in an automobile accident. "A Death in the Family" is an autobiographical novel of that sad time with much of the novel seen through a child's eyes. The novel was unfinished when James Agee also died at a young age. His editor had to decide where to place several gorgeously written flashback scenes of happier days for the family so that they would not detract from the main story.

The beginning of the novel shows the love between Jay and
Dec 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: what can you see?!
Recommended to Mariel by: kaneda
Rufus seldom had at all sharply the feeling that he and his father were estranged, yet they must have been, and he must have felt it, for always during these quiet moments on the rock a part of his sense of complete contentment lay in the feeling that they were reconciled, that there was really no division, no estrangement, or none so strong, anyhow, that it could mean much, by comparison with the unity that was so firm and assured, here. He felt that although his father loved their home and lov ...more
Aug 11, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those who appreciate the hidden mystery of the emotional moment
This isn't a difficult book but it's certainly not traditional. There is practically no profluence beyond the natural causality of a single incident--the death of a good man. In other words, there are no surprises, nothing is coming that you don't already know, no real "narrative" reason to turn the page.

Rather, the book is held together by a string of incredibly detailed descriptions of highly emotional moments in one family's life. The vivid inner lives of the characters that Agee creates are
What do I do? I am worrying about my rating of A Death in the Family. I was uncomfortable with all the stuff about religion in the book. This and the funeral at the end were difficult for me to bear. I am altering the rating to four. The rating reflects my personal preferences.


I have chosen to give this book five stars because it so very accurately portrays death in a Southern family. It has in-depth character portrayals and excellent writing. I didn't enjoy read
Mar 24, 2011 marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 20-ce, us, fiction
Agee's prose seems to me deeply influenced by Faulkner, but with an uncanny ring of Chekhov. Still reading.— Ah, the book fell from my hands. Must give it another try when the planets align. :-)
Larry Bassett
This book starts out gentle and familiar with the description of a father and young son at the movie house watching Charlie Chaplin. It is a silent film of course and the words not spoken are acted out on the screen as they are in life. But in life there is not the Chaplinesque exaggeration. As both a father and a son, I am touched by the obvious bond that exists. And as I understand that the words are reflecting back on events of many years ago, I am drawn in by the skill of the author who plac ...more
May 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Monica by: mom and dad
Shelves: special-books
original note: This book so far is giving me some comfort.
It's on a list of the 101 best novels since 1923 that I haven't studied yet, but think it may sit better with me than the 1001 previously discussed.

This Bantam edition I guess I've had since 1983. It says it's the 13th printing and portions were previously published in The Partisan Review, The Cambridge Review, The New Yorker, and Harper's Bazaar: all publications worthy of such incredible writing. One half to three quarters of the way t
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
James Agee died very suddenly in his early forties after he'd been working on this novel for several years. Those who published it posthumously had to piece it together as best they could, so there are some sections that don't quite fit where they were placed. However, this is still a very powerful piece, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958.

The story itself is very simple. In 1915, a young man with a wife and two children is instantly killed one night in a car accident. The book follows the grie
Apr 27, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Sue by: OTSLT
So infinitely sad. These people are so completely presented in all their parts and thoughts, imperfections, each totally human thought as it occurs at the totally inappropriate moment. This is life on the page.--This was my thought when I was about half way through this novel. How was I to know that it was to become even more sad to the point of wishing I could explain to a child as I read the final page.

Everything rings true.

"Andrew," Mary broke in, "tell Mama. she's just dying to
know what w
Azita Rassi
Dec 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A masterpiece of characterization. I can't wait for the BBC Radio 4 discussion about it with the author.
A month after the above sentences, I discovered that the book of the month announced, though of the same title, is actually the first volume of My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, another highly acclaimed 'A Death in the Family'. Well, I will read that one as well. All I can say is that it was a lucky mistake :-)
Dec 13, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This is not a poorly-written book, only an extremely boring one. I had to force myself to read it because I felt surely there was some redeeming quality in it that would merit its being awarded a Pulitzer Prize. That being said, I feel it is a particular type of reader which appreciates this style of writing. As for myself, it makes me want to punch a wall or break things when I have to plod through painstaking descriptions of people's thoughts, going round and round over the same thing like a d ...more
Misha  Mathew
“And no matter what, there's not one thing in this world or the next that we can do or hope or guess at or wish or pray that can change it or help it one iota. Because whatever is, is. That's all. And all there is now is to be ready for it, strong enough for it, whatever it may be. That's all. That's all that matters. It's all that matters because it's all that's possible. ”

James Agee's 'A Death in the Family' was published posthumously and also won the late author a Pulitzer Prize. In additio
Oct 22, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is impossible for me to inject any levity into a review of A Death in the Family. No “headline” here, as has been my wont in other reviews. Yes, the pretext for the novel is a death in the family, but the subject matter is the experience of life.

The best captured experience of life here is from the point of view of a 6-year-old boy in the context of the untimely death of his father. If someone were to ask me what it was like to be a little boy, I would refer them to this text. The reason is t
Dec 05, 2011 rated it it was ok
I was really looking forward to this book. It is spoken of so highly, was graced with a Pulitzer Prize and published posthumously after the untimely death of its young author. However I waited in vain for it to catch fire and was quite disappointed overall. It clearly packed much more of a wallop when first printed but now seems rather dated and less powerful than it once was. At least to me.

Certainly there are lyric passages of great beauty, the most famous of which would be the introductory "K
Nov 11, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chris by: Julie
Heartbreaking and raw. I don't believe I've ever read a book or seen a movie that so realistically portrays a death in the family and what every single member goes through; the weaving of conversations and thoughts between the characters, and being an outsider looking in, some of the conversations and things that were said to Mary and the children. People think they are doing good and mean well, when actually they are saying all the wrong things. And that priest, I wanted to kick him out the doo ...more
Oct 18, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
it's true that this book contains some beautifully evocative and poignant images of a family's grief, but overall it was a real struggle to get through. i haven't read a book like this since my american lit classes in grad school, and i can't say that i miss the style of early 20th century prose. james agee died before this novel was finished, and the published version contains two long sections that suggest, to me, that he had a longer work in mind, one that might have revolved primarily around ...more
Apr 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
میدانی، من واقعا منکر خدا نیستم. دست کم این طور فکر می کنم. انگار انکار وجود خدا، همان قدر بیهوده است که اثباتش. به هر حال نمی توانی ثابت کنی. اما مسئله این است: من باید مدرک داشته باشم. و هرچیزی که قابل اثبات نباشد، به هر ترتیب از نظر من رد شده است.
کتاب رو میشه به دو قسمت تقسیم کرد، قبل از مرگ و بعد از مرگ.به همین شکل روایت ها و اتفاقاتی که قبل از مرگ و بعد از مرگ میفته متفاوته، مرگی که به شکلی ممکنه در هر زمان و مکانی سراغ هر کسی بیاد. شخصی سی و دو ساله تصادف میکنه و فقط چونه اش ضرب میبینه و
This was the second time that I read this book in a two year period and it is as gorgeous and grotesque as I remember.

"She wanted to hold her niece at arms' length and to turn and admire this blossoming. She wanted to take her in her arms and groan unto God for what it meant to be alive(p120)."

"Suddenly there opened within her a chasm of infinite depth and from it flowed the paralyzing breath of eternal darkness. I believe nothing. Nothing whatever." (p121)

"Just spunk won't be enough; you've go
Aug 10, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: e-audible
***3.5 Stars***
Dawn Michelle
5 Stars for the writing.
2 Stars for the story - in MY opinion.

This was a rough book to listen to. The writing is amazing and lyrical and you feel all the feels you are supposed to be feeling. And I felt so bad for both Rufus and Katherine as they struggle to figure out what is going on around them.

BUT! There were parts of this story that I just didn't like; didn't like the writing, or the story, or what was going on. Hence the 2 stars.

I struggled with a lot of the story in general; some of i
Jul 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
How this won a Pulitzer is beyond me. Perhaps as a tribute to a dead, famous author? "A Death in the Family" was published posthumously, after all.

Nonetheless, this book is a prime example of why posthumously publishing anything is a terrible idea: the craft of writing is much more about editing, revisions, and rewriting than it is just about ~writing~. There are golden moments in here - particularly with the alcoholic brother - but they are few and far between because it seems that no one dared
Lisa Vegan
I read this book for my fall freshman year of college, for an English lit course, and it made a huge impression on me. I think I’ve reread it only once, and that was decades ago, but it remains a powerful influence.

I think that this book does a better job than any other I’ve read of communicating the innocence of young children and of portraying how their perceptions of events can be different from those of adults.

The writing style is lovely and the book is very well written, the characters’ per
Mahoghani 23
A three-part story that delves into the life of Jay Johnson and his family. It starts with little Rufus, his son and ends with his son trying to understand the death of his father and what that means to him.

I was a little disoriented trying to figure out where the author was and who was speaking at the time but finally caught up. The story is slow to start and will drag in some areas. To me, the author didn't delve into a lot of things that occur in a family when someone is killed and the emoti
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An American author, journalist, poet, screenwriter and film critic. In the 1940s, he was one of the most influential film critics in the U.S. His autobiographical novel, A Death in the Family (1957), won the author a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.

Agee was born in Knoxville, Tennessee, at Highland Avenue and 15th Street (renamed James Agee Street in 1999) to Hugh James Agee and Laura Whitman Tyler.
More about James Agee

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“How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves. So far, so much between, you can never go home again. You can go home, it's good to go home, but you never really get all the way home again in your life. And what's it all for? All I tried to be, all I ever wanted and went away for, what's it all for?

Just one way, you do get back home. You have a boy or a girl of your own and now and then you remember, and you know how they feel, and it's almost the same as if you were your own self again, as young as you could remember.

And God knows he was lucky, so many ways, and God knows he was thankful. Everything was good and better than he could have hoped for, better than he ever deserved; only, whatever it was and however good it was, it wasn't what you once had been, and had lost, and could never have again, and once in a while, once in a long time, you remembered, and knew how far you were away, and it hit you hard enough, that little while it lasted, to break your heart.”
“And no matter what, there's not one thing in this world *or* the next that we can do or hope or guess at or wish or pray that can change it or help it one iota. Because whatever is, is. That's all. And all there is now is to be ready for it, strong enough for it, whatever it may be. That's all. That's all that matters. It's all that matters because it's all that's possible. ” 22 likes
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