As I Lay Dying

I have read a lot of books this year that I have liked, and as a result Amazon has recommended that I also read some Faulkner. As I had never done this before, but obviously knew the name (there’s a terrible band with the same moniker, no?) and so I picked one more or less at random / on the strength of the front cover (impartial, right).

My mother is a fish. 

After having read And the Ass Saw the Angel by the extremely multi-talented Mr. Nick Cave¹, and similar books besides, I found it fairly easy to get in to the southern twang – which for some can take a fair mental jump. You know you’ve got it when you can’t stop thinking in the vernacular for some time after reading a couple of chapters (zero occurrences of ‘old hoss’ so far – thanks to Marcus for that one). Before getting stuck into the book, I want first to quickly tackle the blurb as it is also something that I would imagine most of us do first in real life anyway. According to the blurb on my Vintage Classics edition,  As I Lay Dying is ‘as epic as the Old Testament [and] as American as Huckleberry Finn.’ This is a pretty fantastic piece of marketing², and I often think of when I did reviews for Bad Acid magazine and had to find ways to describe highly inaccessible music that made sense and weren’t too contrived and wanky.

The book is written by fifteen different narrators, each taking one or more of the 49 chapters to his or herself, and each of them describes their perspective on the death and burial of Addie Bundren, matron of the Bundren family. It is the innermost thoughts of her children, husband, friends and other onlookers as the family attempt to fulfil her dying wish – to be buried in the town of Jefferson. Each of the chapters is pretty short, with the shortest and possibly most well-known, amongst them being reproduced above as my selected quotation. This was also one of the earliest (excluding, you know, Dostoyevsky) and biggest examples of stream-of-consciousness writing, and as such reveals all of the true, ugly, chivalrous, stubborn, honest, selfish and misguided intentions of the narrators. It’s hard to describe much more of the plot without ruining a large chunk of a relatively small book. Suffice to say: a real slice of American literature.

¹This is a fantastic book, by the way. I read it either last year or maybe even the year before, but it really stuck with me. The vernacular of the characters being the writing style obviously helped to emphasise this, similarly to As I Lay Dying, but the story itself is brilliant, too.
²Some of my other favourites include the positive, often hyperbolic praise on vaguely adventure-themed books, e.g. Terminal World – ‘a snarling, drooling, crazy-eyes mongrel’.

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