Once again, I am happy to report being pleasantly surprised. Having read The Sound and the Fury some six months back, I feared more stream of consciousness that would lead to reader confusion. Oddly enough, what frustrated me with my previous reading of Faulkner worked magnificently here. Perhaps it was the dire straits of the Bundren family that made me more receptive, but this sad tale spoke to my soul.
As I Lay Dying was a marvelous, albeit quite dark, tale that took an in-depth look at an extremely poor and struggling family dealing with one blow after another and accepting their fates with more bravery and acceptance than any man should bear facing a single adversity. The various chapters evoke the distinct voices of a variety of characters and each voice is so clear, that even though some stories were “retold” by a different voice, the method was very effective.
Faulkner has a talent for not giving too much away so you’re never quite sure what the characters do or do not know about themselves or others and Jewel Bundren is a perfect example. Jewel is a brooding and intense young man who alienates all around him, yet becomes the fierce protector of his mother’s deliverance to Jefferson. It is revealed that his father is the local minister, yet it is not so clear who is privy to that information. His sense of alienation and estrangement seem to insinuate he is aware, if not consciously, then certainly at a deeper level, of his parentage. I connected with this character more than any other in the book.
Cash Brunden, the eldest son, was a hardworking carpenter who was the type that sets about their work with complete focus. He had a job to do and he was set to do it, regardless of floods, injuries, etc., and all without complaint. He seemed to epitomize the hard-working man.
The father, Anse Bundren, was a hapless man who seemed always on the point of a piteous sigh, but somehow held on to any tiny glimmer of hope that would come his way. He did little to help his circumstances and relied on anyone that would come to his aid rather than take charge on his own. If he weren’t so pitiful, it would be easy to dislike him.
Addie Bundren, whose rotting corpse is trekked by her family, was the saddest of the Bundrens, however, not because of her death, but rather because of her life. Her voice recalls her early married years and the birth of her first child along with the lack of feeling she had for either her husband or her son. Perhaps this lack of emotions led her to the affair with the minister, but she seemed to remain a very unhappy woman throughout. Faulkner was able to portray her indifference with painful clarity.
I have seen it before in women. Seen them drive from the room them coming with sympathy and pity, with actual help, and clinging to some trifling animal to whom they never were more than pack-horses. That’s what they mean by the love that passeth understanding: that pride, that furious desire to hide that abject nakedness which we bring here with us, carrying with us into operating rooms, carry stubbornly and furiously with us into the earth again.
Then she begun to sing again, working at the washtub, with that singing look in her face like she had done give up folks and all their foolishness and had done went on ahead of them, marching up the sky, singing.
That was when I learned that words are no good; that words don’t ever fit even what they are trying to say at.
Sometimes I aint so sho who’s got ere a right to say when a man is crazy and when he aint. Sometimes I think it aint none of us pure crazy and aint none of us pure sane until the balance of us talks him that-a-way. Its like it aint so much what a fellow does, but it’s the way the majority of folks is looking at him when he does it.
I would certainly enjoy Mr. Faulkner’s company and would love to sit near as he weaved a southern tale and would wonder if he’d the ability to audibly project his character’s voices as deftly as he did on the page.
My rating for As I Lay Dying is a 9 out of 10.
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