Completed: As I Lay Dying

As I Lay DyingAs I Lay Dying
William Faulkner
U.S., 1930

I heard that my mother is dead. I wish I had time to let her die. I wish I had time to wish I had. It is because in the wild and outraged earth too soon too soon too soon. It’s not that I wouldn’t and will not it’s that it is too soon too soon too soon.

For the second (maybe third?) time this year I find myself with what I believe is called a book-hangover–that sense on finishing a book that I’ve been wrung through and spat out, that my brain has been worked over mercilessly, that nothing else can be quite adequate for reading just now. (Fortunately this time I have the in-progress Mansfield Park to return to, which is so different that I think this will pass quickly.)  Before, my difficulty was the end of the book–an emotional wringer topped by a sense of pointlessness for the characters. This time, there is perhaps a sense of the pointless, perhaps a sense of sorrow for the events that passed, but also the knowing that the real loss is the book that was at hand but is now done. A real sadness that the last page has been turned, a temptation to turn to the beginning and start over again. Not only does it seem to have briefly spoiled me for books, but I find myself restless with all else–turning to other entertainments does no good.

I knew that As I Lay Dying would be good before I started it, work to read, yes, but worthwhile work, not because of other’s reviews or its spot on “greatest” lists, or not just because of, but because I had previously read Faulkner’s “The Bear” (the short story version, not the Go Down, Moses version) which struck me immediately with its worth. The two are not the same, the literary techniques employed are different, the tone is different, I did not mourn the end of “The Bear.” But they are work of the same hand, so I felt confident of my expectations, if not aware that it would leave me hanging, wanting more.

I did not, this time, not like two years ago when I couldn’t say why I thought Savage Detectives was good, I did not want to fail to articulate what I meant. So I paid better attention. Thought about it more. Why is this so good, why do I like it so much? The story (plot) is…ordinary. But not: death, mourning, a disjointed family are ordinary; carrying a body after 4 days on a multi-day journey by mule-wagon is not. Faulkner has taken (took) the ordinary, skews it a bit, makes it something to pay attention to. It is his prose. No, not just his prose. They way Faulkner gets into each of the characters. Revealing who they are by what they think and say and by what others think and say. We see the characters, so many of them, from so many vantages, so many points of view. It is not like real life, where we see only our view, and perhaps another’s, if they share it with us. We see them all, conflicting thought they may be.

He gets so into each character. But how does he get into their heads, their voices? They each have different voices. I’m not so good a reader as to know, exactly, but I know that Dewey Dell and Vardaman are hard to follow. Darl is easier, although not always; his thoughts seem more grandiose than what a Bundren should be capable of. Tull is right, Darl thinks too much. The non-Bundrens seem the easiest. The plainest. But is that because they are the plainest people, the Bundrens, more…unique? Or because they, the non-Bundrens, are the outsiders? Looking in? I do not think they always see the truth; are they plainer in speech (thought) because they only think they see, or because they are of lesser importance here? But I wander. HOW does Faulkner do it? Get us in their heads? Is it simply the stream-of-conscious (a technique I very much like, at least here, it seems so right to me, so real)? The absence of words, those absent words that make it harder to follow? That we are reading what they are thinking and because they already know what they know and know what they see and wouldn’t describe it to themselves, so they don’t need to say it, so they leave all that out, which makes it harder to follow even though they know exactly what they are thinking and talking about. It is these voices, all these different voices, that pull me in. Into their world of poverty and hardship. I feel still an incompetent reader, though now I can say better why I like this one. I just don’t know how.

It’s only a pity this is the only Faulkner on my Classics Club list. I foresee much more of him in my future.

7 thoughts on “Completed: As I Lay Dying

  1. I love that passage you quote! I’m excited to read this one. (I can’t remember if it’s on my CC list…)

    1. Isn’t that passage wonderful? I haven’t really read any other Faulkner, but I’m excited to (at some point) read more of his novels. He’s one of my dad’s favorites, and now I can see why. Hopefully this is on your list!

    1. You worried me a little, there, thinking I may have started with the best (only way to go, down), but if there are other candidates, I can rest easy. The voices, though, yes, are part of what draws me into this one.

  2. I haven’t read Faulkner in ages, Amanda, but your giddy reaction here might just make me giddy enough to tackle The Sound and the Fury before the end of the year (note: I’m using “giddy” lightly; I know that’s not really what you were getting at). Somewhat strangely I think for most U.S. readers, my renewed interest in Faulkner has to do less with his classic status on its own–although that’s certainly part of the potential appeal–and more with the fact that both Juan Carlos Onetti and Juan José Saer–two of my favorite writers and both Latin-Americans as it happens–raved about and were supposedly influenced by Faulkner. Anyway, glad you enjoyed this novel so much and hope you run into another Faulkner sometime soon. Cheers!

    1. If my, uh, giddiness (which at certain points last Saturday may not have been an entirely inaccurate description) prompts you to return to Faulkner, so much the better. Though I may be biased. I’d say tracing the influencers of your favorite authors is as good a reason as any to read an author. I wonder, though, are authors from other countries typically better versed in US lit than the other way around? It seems US authors most commonly list other American (or maybe British) authors as influences, at least in lists I’ve seen… Maybe that reading-in-translation problem again.

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