Tuesday, June 17, 2014

As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner

As I Lay Dying
I feel like I have been on a roll lately with the 100 Best Novels list. Or, maybe I'm just getting back on track. It's gonna be tough to actually get this list done by the time I turn 30, but, seriously, I'm doing my best.

Just like E. M. Forster, William Faulkner has three novels on the list. I read The Sound and the Fury last year. It was one of my very first ventures into the Modern Library list challenge. 

What I learned from that book: Faulkner doesn't make things easy for his readers. He loves to follow characters' train of thought rather than just describe their actions. His characters are rich and rewarding, though. Faulkner's tough, but worth it.

As I Lay Dying lived up to the same. The book was complex and satisfying, even though, at its core, the story is a simple one.

The Bundren family loses their matriarch, Addie, and the novel centers around the family's attempts to take her body to the nearby town of Jefferson to bury it, according to her wishes. The chapters are each written from the point of view of a different character. Faulkner covers 15 character voices in all. You hear from all the children - there are five - as well as Addie's husband, some neighbors, and some random other characters. Each has a key to putting the whole story together, making the novel a bit like a delightful literary puzzle.

The work is very literary, for lack of a better word. Because of the constantly shifting voice and the slow revelations that come as different characters add to the story, you have to pay close attention. I do not see the book translating well to the silver screen at all. James Franco made an adaptation not too long ago, so I have it on my Netflix queue. My hopes are not high, however. Plus, I really can't stand James Franco, so I can't even give him the benefit of the doubt.

You cannot read any of Faulkner's work without admiring his way with words. While he writes in the southern voices of his characters, he can shape even their imperfect English into something beautiful. For instance, one line reads, "as though we had reached the place where the motion of the wasted world accelerates just before the final precipice." I mean, that is just beautiful writing. It really reminds me that words themselves can be beautiful when paired properly, even if they require extra work to discern meaning.

Faulkner did have another great line that I marked. This one, however, I marked for content rather than literary beauty. He writes, "people to whom sin is just a matter of words, to them salvation is just words too." I found that line truly poignant. As a Christian, I think this is something I battle with constantly. I don't ever want me faith to consist of words alone, but it so easily becomes that. And Faulkner really gets to the heart of the matter as to why we have that struggle with just a few words.

The plot itself left me a little wanting, but it spoke volumes about people and about the era in which it took place. (Sidebar: I seriously cannot believe how long it took them to bury Addie Bundren! Completely gross.) Once again, I thrive on a book that is character-driven rather than focused entirely around action and cliff hangers. I appreciate when an author makes me work for it a bit, something  at which Faulkner excels. I definitely recommend this one for anyone looking for something more than a beach read this time of year.

Pages: 267
Date Completed: May 21, 2014


  1. We read this junior year and The Sound and the Fury, which I found less confusing, senior year. My junior year lit teacher said that her dad had told her that "Good writing doesn't necessarily make good reading." which I thought made sense because this book is very well written and worth the effort to read it even though it is hard to follow and takes work to understand.

    1. I love that idea! It's so true with many of these Modern Library books. Worth reading for the cultural and educational value, but not always very enjoyable in the process. Maybe a bit like some more modern art? Beautiful in its meaning and intention, but not necessarily something you'd want to hang in your home and look at every day.