Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Book Notes: "As I Lay Dying" by William Faulkner

Kicking off my renewed interest in literature I dusted off the only book within reach - Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying".

I had read it in AP English in high school, but remembered very little of it. I'm not the fastest reader, but I was a bit shocked to find that I finished it in about four and a half hours (a plane ride and then a bit last night). Somehow I remember it being a longer slog in high school.

"Dying" is an interesting bit of heightened stream-of-consciousness writing. Each chapter is told from the perspective of a different character that may be intimately or only tangentially involved in the story. I say "heightened" stream-of-consciousness writing because Faulkner's poor farmer family surely couldn't have had the vocabulary or insight attributed to them.

Many of the characters have similar musings. One constant theme comes off as a kind of home-grown, grass-roots existentialism. There are many confusing jumbles of language that emerge to form their own logic about existence, reality, and labels - "I am not are, I am is" "My mother is a fish. She is not in the box because she is in the water because she is a fish" and the like.

And at its broadest level it's a modern day retelling of the story of Job, but this time as a farce. Anse Bundren, father and head of the family, is a born fool carrying out a fool's errand to bury the wife that secretly and not-so-secretly despised him.

Overall I found it strangely compelling. The surface story unwinds itself as you get drawn deeper into the strange, mostly hidden lives of these supposedly simple people. It would take another couple readings and closer study to get at all the nuances here. Solid work and more accessible than you might expect.


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