John Otto's Reviews > A Death in the Family

A Death in the Family by James Agee
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Mar 15, 2011

it was amazing

The advantage of not having been an English major in college is that all the classics are new to me. This book, the only novel by James Agee, may be the finest novel I have ever read. It is the only one he ever wrote and it was published posthumously in 1946, two years after he died. Agee was well-known in his life-time for a work of non-fiction about depression-era tenant farmers, "Let Us Now Praise Famous Men," and for his movie reviews.

"A Death in the Family," won the Pulitzer Prize for literature. It is said to be based on Agee's own life. Not much happens in the way of plot. The father of a little boy is killed in an automobile accident. The book skillfully explores the relationship between the boy and his father and the rest of the family. It describes with sensitivity how the boy felt about his father's death, a mixture of sadness and exhilaration that he was now "half an orphan." The prelude is a description of a walk the son takes with his father downtown and back. Its descriptions are astounding. They remind me a lot of Irene Nemirovsky's descriptions in "Suite Francais," which was written around the same time in their vividness and authenticity.

Even if you generally don't read fiction, this is one book everyone MUST read. The truths in it are far beyond any nonfiction you will ever read.
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