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As I lay dying

As I lay dying

Author William Faulkner
Title As I lay dying
Year 1930

William Faulkner - As I lay dying

William Faulkner (1897-1962) was an American novelist and poet. He is probably the second-most influential Southern author (after Twain). His experimental use of literary devices – in particular stream of consciousness – makes his work often difficult to understand. He won the 1949 Nobel prize for literature.

As I lay dying is the story of the death and final journey of Addie Bundren. After her death her husband and children decide to honor her last wish and bring her to Jefferson, the town where she came from, to bury her there, a journey through Mississippi. As the story unfolds, we discover that several family members have selfish motives for a trip to Jefferson: Addie’s husband Anse, for instance, is toothless and wants to go to town to buy false teeth, while their teenage daughter wants to have an abortion before anyone finds out she’s pregnant.

Little by little, we get to know the Bundren family and their history, their lack of love and respect for each other, their quarrels and fears, by small revelations of one family member about another family member. The journey is disastrous for all involved, except for the lazy and selfish Anse, who is the only one to realize his goals (and more than his goals!), but at the expense of the others.

The story is narrated by several different people – family members, neighbors, passers-by, even the deceased herself. The numerous changes in narrator (sometimes mid-sentence), the stream of consciousness style of the narration, and the unreliability of the narrators (there is more than a hint of madness in several of them) makes the story sometimes hard to follow. As I lay dying is more challenging than Huckleberry Finn or To kill a mockingbird, and probably needs a second reading to fully appreciate it, but the extra effort needed to read this book is certainly rewarded.

The reading of As I lay dying completes the Southern reading challenge 2007.

5 Comments

  1. For a Faulkner challenge, I’d recommend ABSALOM, ABSALOM hands down.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Christine. I found As I lay dying also quite a challenge. But I may try Absalom, Absalom too, some day.

  3. This is a great book, a classic eerie Faulkner book.

  4. It is challenging, though I think that’s part of the joy! Perhaps his short stories might be a better point of entry. It’s good to know his tricks, though, especially when reading Toni Morrison, to really see the influence.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Masterpieces | Henk van Kampen photography - [...] in art and literature you should check out Masterpieces. You could start with the reviews of As I lay …
  2. Southern reading challenge | Henk van Kampen photography - […] As I lay dying, by William Faulkner. Less accessible than the other two, it probably needs a second reading …

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