Your Favorite Book By Your Favorite Writer
|As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner|
All right, this was one of the posts in the 30 that I have been really excited about doing. This book took the top off my head in so many ways I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to cram all the comments I have on the book into one post. I encountered this book for the first time when I was a junior in high school. I was doing some extra-curricular reading and my librarian (as the stories often go) knew me enough to recommend this book to me when I said I was looking for something really advanced. All she said was, “I think you’d like this.” And that was good enough for me. The first time I read the first few pages are all a blur to me now. I’m not even sure if the words registered at all. The thing that caught me up was the fact that this was the first time I had read a book with more than one narrator. Before this, I had been ignorant of anything labeled “Modernism.” In retrospect, the book wasn’t the best introduction to Faulkner possible, but it’s definitely the best example of Faulkner at his best.
In the interest of full disclosure, as a reader I am automatically predisposed to liking stories with more than one narrator and stories that are written with stream-of-consciousness emphasis. It should be pretty clear then for those who have read the book to see why it appeals so much to me. The book’s premise–for those who haven’t read it–is about the trials of a family (the Bundrens) who are traveling across the county to bury Addie, the mother, in the town where she came from. The perspectives included in the story are from Addie’s own, all the living members of the Bundren family, as well as some friends of the Bundren family. Each person has their own opinions on the trip as well as their own motives for going. Faulkner does an incredible job of weaving all these perspectives together.
Faulkner’s work with perspective is truly amazing and the first thing I want to talk about. In the book we are confronted with the difference in perspective between children and those who are older, exemplified by the youngest child’s words about his mother, trying to make sense of her death: “My mother is a fish.” Also, the perspective surrounding the supposed protagonist, Darl, are at the heart of the entire book. Darl is the most intelligent and the most eloquent character in the story. Therefore, he is given the most space in the book to speak. And interestingly enough, Darl is the one character in the book who is thought to be insane. This brings up the idea of a world where the only sane or intelligent person is viewed as insane. We are given insights into the characters from their own minds as well as from the minds of others. Every character in the book is seen and seer. This complex kaleidoscope of point of view created by Faulkner is truly original and gives an insight into both character and situation that before this book was nigh impossible to attain.
Quality is another reason I am writing about this book. For those who are experienced with reading complex works, I definitely suggest reading this book if they want to get the best that Faulkner has to offer. Many critics of Faulkner say that he doesn’t really know when to cut a sentence short or that he has a bad habit of using a ten dollar word when a five dollar one will do. Not in this book. I think this book is truly where Faulkner’s stride lengthened the most in terms of the writing ability and purposefulness, where the maturity in his writing and crafting is at its fullest extent. After reading it again for the fourth time, I believe that there is not one word in this book that doesn’t belong. Faulkner said that he wrote the whole thing in six weeks while working at a power plant and never changed a word. If the story is true, I would call that one of the greatest writing binges ever.
The philosophy in the pages of Faulkner’s book is evoked so honestly and so congruent to the voices of the characters that we really feel each member of the Bundren family plowing for answers, sifting through old memories and the actions happening now to try and find just why it is we are here and why we’re doing what we do.
Finally, in true Faulknerian fashion, some of the most beautifully wrought descriptive passages Faulkner has written exist in this book. The description of vultures circling above the Bundren house like some dreadful omen; a passage depicting the tossing rapids of a rushing river; and my favorite, the burning of a barn late at night, the embers and flames sending light into the night like a burning beacon. What a great book by an amazing writer.