As I Die Laying

as i lay dying paperback

It takes two people to make you, and one people to die. That’s how the world is going to end. -Darl

Took me a while. Can’t remember exactly when I bought the book. But I do remember buying it in Frankfurt off the Leipziger Strasse near the university. I also remember reading Faulkner in College so many years ago. Can’t say the memories are fond, though. I think we read some of his short stories. Nomatter. As far as reading him goes, Faulkner is not unlike Hemingway (to me) even though the two are completely difference writers. When I was younger I just couldn’t get through either one. The pages confused me. The writing cadence (is there such a thing?) through me off. Hemingway had a way of just boring me with his endless narrations of landscapes or seas. Faulkner’s writing style threw me off, too. Something about stream of consciousness, perhaps. Or it had something to do with school, the pressures of grades, judgement. Reading in order to write a paper for a professor never did me any good, that’s for sure. Not that I’m cutting on professors or schools. But I have often thought about whether or not writers realise what is done with their work at university level. Is it a good thing? Is it a not so good thing?

A few weeks back I decided to give my library a thorough one-over and dusting. In doing so I also created a nice little database of my books. Been wanting to do that for years. Luckily technology has caught up to my wants. Found an app for my iPad that scans book bar-codes. Works like a charm. If there are no bar-codes, as is the case with this old paperback, then all I have to do is input the ISBN number and the app locates it. But I’m off subject.

ripped page
Copy not in the best shape. Missed a page.
I picked up this old paperback with the idear it was time to try again. (Btw, I’ll be trying the same thing with Hemingway soon.) And although it was slow reading, it seems I’ve finally found a way in–to Mr. Faulkner. Maybe. Here’s my first impression. Faulkner writes As I Lay Dying with a vengeance. Even though I was only able to get through one or two chapters with every sitting, I looked forward to the next time I opened the book. The breaks in-between allowed me (my mind) to breath–from the Anstrengung. Yet Faulkner has a style, a cadence, if you will, that is tumultuous. I don’t know if its because of his ability to write as his characters actually speak or if its getting my mind to play along with the accents of the southern characters he’s portraying–accents that I know so well. In fact, I found it sometimes easier to read the text out-loud. My better half would often tell me to stop moving my lips while reading. “It means you’re stupid,” she’d say. Reading this book out-loud stopped my mind from having to think about each word written, how they were placed, etc. Having grown up around rednecks and Volk that aren’t the brightest stars in the heavens, the sound of Faulkner’s words were easier to speak than to read. Wait. The probably doesn’t make much sense.

Not only have I read what is probably one of the greatest books ever written but I feel as though it speaks to me, as is the case with a few other books/writers. Umberto Echo is one. The Master And Margarita is another (a book I must re-read, btw). Not sure when I’ll get to it but Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury is on my list now. That said, this book, as difficult as it is, is a joy. Supposedly written in a matter of weeks while Faulkner was working at a power plant, it was also submitted “as is” for publication. Italics are used in the text which I can only assume indicate some form of correction, collation, etc., and was set by the publisher. Other parts of the text have obvious grammar issues but I suppose that has to do with Faulkner re-creating the jargon of his characters. Although there is much said about this book, I’m wondering if all the sayers missed something.

For example. There is one thread that binds As I Lay Dying together. Although many consider it a brilliant portrayal of a downtrodden American family coping as best it can with circumstance, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of cynicism on the part of the author regarding that family. But is Faulkner also a cynic regarding the American ideal? What is portrayed in this book is not just a clumsy group of half-wits facing uncertainty. Faulkner is sharing a point of view regarding how Americans cope with that same, ever existing, uncertainty.

The death of the matriarch requires that the family trek her un-embalmed corpse for nine summer days so she can be buried in her hometown. The way Faulkner describes how they build her coffin, the text even includes a small drawing, is brilliant. But because the mother wanted to be buried in her wedding dress, they think they have to lay her up-side-down so that the dress won’t be crushed by the shape of the coffin. Imagine a bumbling group of half-wits trying to figure that out! Because of wild weather and a flooded river the family not only shows its lack of cognitive ability but also its self-destructive nature. Crossing the river causes great loss plus a broken leg for one of the sons. The fact that the father eventually pours concrete on the broken leg to try and stabilise it, well, that also says a great deal about intelligence.

Let’s see. What happens next? Oh yeah. The daughter is sexually abused by a family acquaintance on the trip and her prescribed naiveté plus ten dollars isn’t enough to get her an abortion. And here’s the real kicker. Although they make it to the mother’s wished final resting place, there is very little written about the funeral. Instead the father 1) meets a new wife and 2) with the ten dollars his daughter was given for her abortion, of which her naiveté won’t allow her to speak about it, the father takes the ten dollars to get new teeth. Indeed. That’s kinda hi-larry-us. Obviously. The best of the American family isn’t quite best enough, eh, dear worst-reader.

It seems to worst-moi that there are three ways to portray the American “family”. There’s the funny way, there’s the sad way and then there’s the violent way. Funny and violent seem to mix well. The Sopranos comes to mind. Portraying the American family sad is a bit more difficult to do. I mean, who wants to watch reality? But I’m sure there are examples out there. To categorise the Bundren family this way might be a bit belittling. And that’s ok. The text, the challenging way it is written, makes up for it all. Or?

But my mother is a fish. -Vardaman

Once again, probably for lack of proper (academic) training, and as much as I enjoyed reading this book, I can’t help but consider it a criticism of America and the ideals that permeate the American mindset. Portraying the family as a unit that must depend on its ability to rationalise any situation can only mean that it is as strong as its weakest link–I mean it’s as strong as its weakest thinker. Or maybe not. I don’t know what to say about this book and I’ve already said too much. But that’s what I do.

Rant on. -t