Wednesday, June 26, 2013

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner's Nobel Prize-winning novel As I Lay Dying handily solidified the author's leading position among all authors (alongside Dostoevsky and Tolstoy), in this blogger's humble opinion.  It is a fantastic story with memorable characters and an impeccable writing style.  Faulkner was known to refer to it as his "tour de force," a label with which I cannot disagree.

The book's premise is simple enough; the execution is anything but.  Addie Bundren, matriarch of a poor, tragically flawed family in Yoknapatawpha County, is dying.  By the time her husband, Anse Bundren, sends for the doctor, it's too late for him to do anything.  With her passing, Anse is determined to fulfill his promise to her: to bury her in Jackson alongside her own family.  Difficult in even the best of times, this is made nearly impossible by the storm that just passed, washing out the various bridges within wagon-driving distance.

The book is told through the perspectives of the Bundrens (Anse, Addie and their children Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell and Vardaman), as well as their friends and neighbors and members of the larger community.  Each chapter continues (or fills in) the story, and in doing so, fleshes out the narrator's and other characters' stories.  Herein lies Faulkner's gift.  Through stream of consciousness storytelling and the use of internal monologues (that of one narrator, in particular, being clearly more intellectual than the character himself could be), the reader understands the motivations and challenges of each character.  Woven together, it's a far more complex family - with far greater problems and historical baggage - than you'd imagine.

Reading none of the characters presents the difficulty of interpretation found in the brilliant The Sound and the Fury, making this book much more accessible.  It would be a wonderful introduction to Faulkner's complexity - and to his writing style - and to Southern Gothic literature at large.  I'd recommend it without reservations to anyone.

Next up: The behemoth The Count of Monet-Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.  A fellow Doestoevsky fan says it's her favorite book of all time.  How can I resist?

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