As I Lay Dying As I Lay Dying question

Having lots of difficulty working my way through this. Please help!
Andrea Andrea Jun 04, 2012 12:45AM
I am really struggling to get through this book. The syntax is killing me. First, this is my first foray into Faulkner. Second, I generally am not bothered by unusual or atypical syntax in a novel. (Case in point: Blindness is one of my favorite books.) I just cannot seem to get past it here. I feel like I never know who is speaking or thinking, and the layering of events one on top of another is actually confusing me further. Any ideas, suggestions, words of encouragement, would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

I had read Paradise Lost a few years ago and followed the advice given in the foreward to read it out loud. I found that if I focused on the rhythm and the sound the sense of the meaning came through a lot more consistenly than if I stopped and puzzled over syntax and demanded that every line "make sense." I think that in a similar way Joyce and some of the more "difficult" Faulkner works can be read this way. If youndon't want to read out loud, at least read quickly. As I Lay Dying is a fairly short work and I thought there was a lot of recursiveness in it. As characters reveal themselves to you (and in many cases to themselves as well) there's plenty of overlap and opportunity to keep the story thread going as it passes back and forth through the eyes and internal dialogues of the various characters--sort of like how "real life" unfolds for each person.

Helen I would recommend keeping a loose journal, at least for the first eight chapters or so, because there are fifteen narrators to get your head around. I ...more
Jun 18, 2013 02:55PM · flag

That would be Benji who would watch through the fence at the golfers calling Caddy, Caddy and what he heard was Caddy, his estranged sister's name. Billy, the Faulkner, what an imagination.

Yes, it is difficult, but rewarding. Stick withit.

i still get weak in the knees when i think about this book. it is an amazing work, imo. and well worth the effort. but i do sympathize with it's complex structure. my best advice would be to simply read it through gathering what you can and thereby getting an overview of what "might" be going on ... and then read a structured summation of it after reading it for yourself ... and then close yourself up for a full three day weekend and read it through a second time. and then watch it just pop out at you, alive and kicking. in short, it's worth working through. success.

That was the first full novel I ever read while I was learning English.

I hated it at first, then read a bunch of other novels, and realised that As A Lay Dying truly was one of the greatest novels out there. The first third of the book is the hardest, but as you reach the second and last thirds, you get in the head of the characters and it's all Ok. Do take into consideration that it is a noir satire of the lives of the bundren.

Take care, and after that you can try The Trial by Kafka if you really want to be puzzled!

My advice about As I Lay Dying: Don't worry about that. The journey is about the emergence of the Bundren's from their claustrophobic, enmeshed, swamp-like world into a world that sees them. If the language doesn't speak to you, of course, stop reading. Otherwise, let the sound carry you for a while and see what happens.

I just read through this book myself and loved it. For knowing the character talking, I found it actually helped to say the character name to myself that prefaced every chapter. Maybe even say it a few times, so it sort of echoes in your mind as you read. After a while, it got to the point that I could read a random page and know who was talking just by their mannerisms.

the pov is noted at the beginning of each chapter. may i ask specifically what other problems you are having?

This is definitely a "read between the lines" book. This was also the first Faulkner book I read and also got frustrated with it quickly. I went to sparknotes and got the character list - it made it much easier to read and enjoy.

I agree with you Alana, I hated this book. I do not like his style of writing at all and I have read many different types of books. I love reading and can usually enjoy even the most difficult author. I guess we can't love everyone we read.

When I first read this book, I understood what the people were saying, but I had no clue how they related to the plot whatsoever. However, after a while, I started to understand it more, and the characters really grew on me.

I started to read it on my own last year in HS, thought it up to NOTES FROM THE UNDERGROUND in literary quality but let it go before the end as it was too confusing for me. In my second year college, I had a terrible literature course THE MODERN NOVEL with a severely limited professor who placed SANCTUARY, the only novel F disavowed for its rampant sensationalism, on the book list. Later that year I finally finished the AILD without understanding about 25% of it. Four years ago I picked it up again and finished it. Yes, it was I hard read but again I found it highly rewarding.

I did find some interesting passages ambiguous. When the daughter is in the horse stable and her retarded or slow brother comes upon her enjoying the sexual equine encounter, how exactly was the horse pleasuring her. My initial take was that she had positioned her mid body close to the mare's exhalation.But then again.....Does it really matter

I definitely think you should stick with it, as it's one of my favorite books. However, I wouldn't recommend this as your first foray into Faulkner due to the unusual syntax. I felt I already "got" Faulker before reading As I Lay Dying, and that contributed to my enjoyment of it. I completely understand how someone who doesn't know his style well yet would be put off.

This is one of those books that I think requires at least two readings to fully appreciate. If you're having trouble getting through it, reading it once without worrying too much about every detail and then rereading is one way to go.

Another thing that works for some people, if you're not spoiler averse, is to read a plot summary (e.g. wikipedia or sparknotes) so that you know what's going on plot and character-wise and then can read it focusing on the language. Obviously, this approach is not for everyone, but it's preferable to giving up entirely, as it is an amazing book.

I had the same exact problem when I tried to read it for English. However, what helped me a lot was looking up on SparkNotes and sites like it (I did Schmoop), and it helped me A LOT when trying to understand the book. Needless to say, the next quiz/test wasn't as much of a pain.
Hope this helps!

I'm having trouble knowing when each chapter's narrator is speaking versus thinking. Are the passages in italics thoughts? Are they even the thoughts of that particular narrator? Also, the chronology of events is puzzling me. Sometimes it seems as if events are, at least partially, layered over one another from chapter to chapter. This book is frustrating me because there are passages of the purest beauty and brilliance, and yet I'm finding myself constantly disturbing the flow of the book by flipping backwards to remember who is narrating the chapter I'm reading and which character that person is and how exactly he or she fits into the story.
Thank you so much for all the comments and suggestions. I think I will push through and finish it, and, as per Whitney's suggestion, not worry too much about every detail because I'll be giving it a second read.

I hated this book, too. But it's so short, it's easy to finish.

Although I am a Faulkner fan, I really didn't care for this book. Maybe I should do as Dirk suggested and listen to a recording of Faulkner reading it or read it twice as Whitney suggested.

I loved this Faulkner novel. It is my favorite. I love the way he changes viewpoints in the chapters. It was pretty unique at the time.

My mother is a fish is one of my favorite literary sentences of all time.

Hang in there. Relax. Refresh your memory on who is speaking in each chapter. It is wonderful. Flow with it.

Ben (last edited Jun 05, 2012 09:55AM ) Jun 05, 2012 09:51AM   0 votes
I have found that the Great Courses series is very helpful in understanding some of the more difficult literature out there. Essentially, these are lectures by highly regarded professors on CD or DVD format. This book in particular is addressed in depth in Classic Novels - Meeting the Challenge of Great Literature.

Good luck!

Admittedly, this is a tough read. I tried to read Faulkner about two decades ago and didn't make it too far. Now, he has become one of my favorites.

Faulkner himself offered this not too helpful advice in response to a question in his Paris Review interview;

Some people say they can't understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?

Read it four times.

I found it best to read it in longer chunks rather than smaller bits (I feel the same way that Shakespeare). For me, it picks up a bit of flow and feels less disorienting (although it's still a bit dizzying). There is quite a bit of information on the web about Faulker and this book. I'm honestly not much of an Oprah fan but there are some good resources about the book on the Oprah's website.

Ultimately, life is too short and there are too many books to read. If it's too much work and not enjoyable enough, grab another book off the shelf. Come back to it in a year or two and it may seem more appealing.

This was my first Faulkner experience and I was in a Mod Fiction class at the university. That helped in terms of discussion but....just keep going....don't try too hard to think of what everything means and who everyone is...just keep moving along. I found it really funny - like so unbelievable the stuff that happened as they tried to carry out her wishes and then the reason she had requested that from her husband...ironic, nutty, funny. Then I tried The Sound and the Fury...I almost went nuts. I made myself finish and have been reading 'how to read Faulkner' things on line....many say to read it twice or three times. The first time quickly to get an overview...then again and again. Can't say I've started the 2nd time of either but he is not an easy read, for sure.

My book club nicknamed this book "As I Die Reading" since we all almost did.....

Mkfs nice! :)
Mar 10, 2014 09:46PM · flag

Someone in my masters class decided the title should be changed to 'Shoot Me Now'. I have to agree :-(

I do have a suggestion. There are several recordings of Faulkner reading aloud including a brief excerpt from As I Lay Dying. Get a hold of one an listen. There is something about hearing the rhythm and intonation of his voice that makes it easier to read him ever after.

I actually hated it, like absolutely despised it until the last few chapters when it all just came together. At one point I remember thinking "whoa, that actually is a great story with wonderful (sometimes wonderfully horrid) characters!" I just liked looking at the symbolism and the character development. That's what got me through. If you think of it as a modern story told in a modern way then you're not going to get through.

I picked this book up thinking it would be an easy read and I liked Faulkner stories. The book was a tough one to get used to, but as I read I started to hear the characters become themselves. I had to get used to the voice of the corpse, but after a while the whole thing came along. I'm glad I stuck with it. Faulkner is never easy but he is rewarding.

I completely sympathize with you as this was my first reading of Faulkner, and I had the same difficulty. I had also read other such books before where the narrator changes, but this one was much more extreme in the sense that the narrator changed a lot more. I suggest that in order to truly comprehend this book, you may need to read this book more than once, to an extent. First, read the book and try to eliminate any bias presented by the characters in order to figure out what is going on in the plot. Then, read to try and figure out the characters' feelings about the various events. Hope this helps.


I hated this book. I pride myself in having a very wide selection of books and will always try an author at least once, but having read several of Faulkner's works, I do not care for his style of writing and I believe this particular work is the one with the son who is mentally handicapped and his chapter just keeps jumping around from one time frame to another? I had to highlight all the sections in a different color to know which part I was reading. If you can get through it, good for you. If not, you're not missing much. Just my opinion, though, some people really like Faulkner. Some of the other books are a little easier to start with, however.

deleted member Aug 14, 2012 08:37PM   -3 votes
Don't waste your time, this is one of the worst books ever. I don't see what the big deal about Faulkner is. Just because you write a senseless piece of shit doesn't make you some kind of literary genius, it makes you a pretentious douche. Crap like this is a prime example of why literature needs to be taken back from the stuffy assholes who teach at universities. Everyone is sharing their tips and tricks for getting through this steaming pile, and I say if you have to do all that it isn’t worth it. Go pick up Huckleberry Finn is you want to read good southern literature. But stop after they lose the slave, because then that story goes to shit too.

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