14 April 2010

As I Lay Dying

Addie Bundren has one dying wish--she wants to be buried in her hometown, miles away from the dilapidated farmhouse she resides in with her volatile husband, Anse, and their dysfunctional brood of children. Her family agrees, thinking they will give the long-suffering woman some peace and comfort by fulfilling her request. Truth be told, Addie could care less about returning home. She just wants to punish the family she always despised by tasking them with a grueling quest, which the Bundren journey ends up being, what with raging streams, burning barns, crazy relatives, family secrets, and enough drama to fuel a soap opera.

I haven't been able to read for pleasure lately, so I had to go digging through my archives of reviews. After throwing Kafka at you last week, I hesitated about posting about Faulkner, but it was that or Samuel Beckett. As trippy as Faulkner may be, I assure you Beckett makes Kafka and Faulkner combined seem relatively normal, so I decided to post this review of my favorite Faulkner novel.
I adore Faulkner. One reason is I love his elaborate style, but his work with stream of consciousness and multi POV have greatly influenced me as a writer, and led to a few disastrous Faulknerian writing experiments as a teenager. (Let's not discuss it...) In this novel, Faulkner pieces together the voices of fifteen very different narrators to relate Addie's journey back home, including the dead woman herself. The result is a complex, fascinating work that reads like a puzzle. One is never quite sure what is going on until the very end, so it reads almost like a detective story, yet the solution is learning all about this family wrought with conflict and turmoil. The characters--especially the selfish Anse, stubborn Jewel, sensitive Darl, and enigmatic Dewey Dell--are vivid and memorable. Faulkner employs stream of consciousness technique superbly and crafts a hauntingly realistic portrait of one of literature's most dysfunctional families. I especially love the twist ending. I think it is one of the best ending lines ever written. ^^

Now, as much as I love Faulkner, I will admit: This kind of experimental fiction is certainly not to everyone's taste. As much as I enjoy it, I have to be in the right mood for it. I think it's a mistake to approach this with the same mindset you would a breezy beach read. If you're not willing to process all of the subtle clues Faulkner is giving you, you're going to be extremely confused. And that's the point. You cannot understand the book until you have completed it, so you must be willing to soldier through the whole work. If you look at it like a brainteaser or a puzzle, you'll be in a better frame of mind to appreciate what Faulkner is doing. That being said, I find this book more accessible than Faulkner's other stream of consciousness masterpiece The Sound and The Fury. Once you realize who all the characters are in As I Lay Dying, it's just a matter of following the action, as opposed to The Sound and The Fury. (I had no idea who anyone was until 3/4 of the way through that one.) It also helps to read the book a second time. Then you can concentrate on Faulkner's technique...rather than stumbling through wondering what the heck is going on.

Again, I know this sort of book isn't for everyone. But I highly recommend As I Lay Dying for anyone who likes experimental fiction. If you have never sampled any of Faulkner's stream of consciousness work, this book is not quite as intimidating as some of his other pieces. Give it a chance and tell me what you think. (I will still be friends with you if you throw the book at the wall and curse me for recommending it.)

Next Week: I am so sorry, but I just have no idea. I am trying to get something read for you guys! My coworker recommended a literary, alternative fantasy series about a book detective. I would like to try that, but I make no guarantees. I'll find something!

Also, Scott and Serena made eloquent pleas for mercy for "The Unblogged Chronicles". I still haven't made up my mind, but I am not entirely considering axing it now. I will make some changes, but for now, they will still be posted.

One more thing! Shmoop posted a book link in honor of Yom HaShoah--Holocaust Remembrance Day. Those of you who know me know I am very proud of my Jewish heritage. And, as a history major who plans to specialize in Nazi Germany, I am a firm believer in the old refrain: Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. I know the Holocaust is not a very pleasant event to remember, but it is something that can't go unmentioned. I would have posted a book review of an appropriate read but, alas, I didn't have time. But, still, read Elie Wiesel's Night or Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl or Markus Zusack's The Book Thief or Richard Glazar's Trap with a Green Fence this week. Maybe next year, I'll have an appropriate review, like Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place or, if I can ever get a hold of an English translation, Lovely Green Eyes. Thanks...and shalom. :)


  1. Awesome review, as always, Zella! :D
    I really want to read the Book Thief. After my reading schedule clears up (maybe this summer!) I definitely will.

  2. Thanks, Scott! You will love The Book Thief--I am 99.9999999% sure you will! One of my absolute favorites. I talked my coworker into reading it and she adored it too. I am still on the lookout for more Zusack novels. Do tell me when you read The Book Thief and what you think!

  3. Zella, hi. I stopped in for a peek at your blog and ended up requesting 2 books from the library: Columbine and Shutter Island. I won't be requesting Faulkner, though! :) Thanks for the suggestions.

  4. Hey, Eric! I think you'll really like both of those. Let me know what you think of them. Also, if you like Shutter Island, definitely read more of Lehane's work. I am on my fourth book and have loved each one so far. :)

    Hehe Something tells me you've already encountered Faulkner... ^^

  5. I love As I Lay Dying! I read it over the summer, and it wasn't easy, but I also loved the ending sentence. As I Lay Dying and Catch-22 have my favorite twist endings of the books I've read so far. Is the book recommended by your coworker The Eyre Affair by any chance? I just read that and it was a lot of fun. The plot was clever, the alternate world was fascinating, and it was stuffed with literary references. I've already ordered the next book in the Thursday Next Series :D

  6. Okay, every time I read the words As I Lay Dying I could only think of the band with the same name.
    I don't know if I would manage this book. I struggle with books that are confusing or difficult.
    Also, find Markus Zusaks "The Messenger" (I am the Messenger in America). It's also brilliant. I love Markus Zusak. Australian authors are some of my favourites (maybe it because I'm from Australia, but anyways.)

  7. Serena: Yes! It is The Eyre Affair! Hehe That's so funny that you have just read it. Based on what you and my coworker have told me, I cannot wait to read it! I pick it up tomorrow. Thanks so much for telling me about it. I was already looking forward to it. Now I am really excited. :D (By the way, I am terribly sorry for writing the wrong name for you on my blog at first. I am not sure what I was thinking. I corrected it. I am very sorry about that, Serena.) :)

    Penguins, If you have trouble with those kinds of books, do not read Faulkner's stream of consciousness novels. They are brilliant but frustrating at times. Try some of his non stream of consciousness work if you want to sample some of his writing without the extra craziness. He has a great chilling short story named "A Rose For Emily." One of my favorites. :) Thanks for the Zusaks' recommendation! I will try to find it. :)

  8. I know! What a coincidence! I think you will really like it. Oh, it's no big deal. You're not the first to mix it up! :)

  9. Serena, I just picked it up today! I was skimming through the first chapter a few minutes ago. It looks so good that I am going to start reading it tonight, though I have another book started. ^^

  10. Zella, you got me. I think I read Light in August in college. I probably need an e-reader these days seeing that I've become so crank-e, pick-e, and laz-e. :D

  11. Ah, I see, Eric. :D Yeah, Faulkner is a very difficult writer to read and I think many teachers do not properly prepare their students for him. I know when I read The Sound and The Fury I was so confused, because I had no idea what was going on until the last section (out of 4). As I Lay Dying started making sense about halfway through. :D

    I have thought about getting an e-reader. I am not sure if it would be the same as turning a page. *indecision* If you get one, let me know how it is.

  12. Zella,

    When I was in high school one of my best friends mother was Russian. It was 9th grade and we were in a type of history class. I assume Tanya, my friend, must have mentioned something to her mother because one morning, this quiet, very private woman shows up at our class and in her beautiful Russian accent told us of her WWII experience.

    She and her sister became prisoners of the Germans. They had to ride in a cattle car (type of car pulled by a train) with hunderds of other people for three days. They had to pull the boards up or attempt to with their hands to try to get air. No one could sit they were in there so packed. They were not close to the door so the little bit of water that was put through the door made it to few people. By the time they made it to the concentration camp they had stood in theirs and others waste, never sat down and no food or water.

    Once at the camp they were made to stand for hours in the snow. Many dropped and died right there. She did not go into any great discription regarding these things. She did say once they were in a compound that after a couple of weeks they began to notice the people in the compound next to them--they were seperated by fencing--would leave and not return, replaced by a new group of people.

    She told us they were told by others they were Jews and when they left they were killed. She did not tell us how, nor would she share the name of the camp. They were not allowed to get close to the fence to try to talk to the Jews but she told us they wanted to badly. They wanted to comfort them but couldn't. I doubt the Jewish people at first knew why they were there but it would not take long to figure it out.

    She said her and her sister were there for a couple years. Once out of the camp I believe it was England she was taken to and met Tanya's father. She was a war bride.

    It made a lasting impression on me. I felt honored to know Tanya's mother, to have slept in her home. We cannot forget--ever.


  13. Melisa, Your friend's mother sounds like a remarkable lady. Thanks so much for sharing that story with me. Indeed we cannot forget, and it would be just as wrong for us Jews to not remember that we most certainly were not the only ones who endured Hitler's death camps. Thanks so much for commenting and following. I appreciate it! :)