Friday, September 07, 2012

Friday Reading Assignment: Faulkner again.

I am sorry to do this to you, but this week it's Faulkner again.  As part of the Fifty Classics project, I just finished As I Lay Dying.  It's very bad to read books like they are medicine, which is what I was doing at first with this one, but suddenly I found I had gotten into it, and didn't want to put it down.

I'd also like to let Green Girl in Wisconsin know that when she commented on my last Faulkner post, saying that As I Lay Dying nearly killed her, and I agreed with her and said it nearly killed me too, I was confusing Light in August for As I Lay Dying.  It was Light in August that nearly killed me.

As I Lay Dying is a comedy, apparently, but it's the sort that makes you indecisive about whether you should laugh or cry or put a gun to your head.  If you look at all the awful things that happen to people and consider them God's little practical jokes, then yes, As I Lay Dying is a comedy.

So, Addie Bundren is dying, and as she's dying, her son Cash is outside sawing the boards for her coffin, which isn't very pleasant, but these are people who are forced to act out of necessity, and it is necessary to make a coffin.  It's also necessary to take the wagon somewhere to deliver something and earn $3, so when Addie actually does die, there's a delay of several days before the wagon returns so they can load her body into it and take it to Jefferson, where she wanted to be buried.  And so it goes, with one misadventure after another and Addie's body smelling worse every day until they have an ever-increasing flock of buzzards following them all the way to Jefferson.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that the youngest son, Vardaman, drilling air holes through the coffin lid for his dead mother, accidentally drills down into her face.  It's a real barrel of laughs. 

No doubt I am very simpleminded and overlooked something vitally important, but overall I was struck by the sheer misery of every member of this family.  They live at the point where tragedy becomes comedy, and that it what made this novel so compelling for me.  Sometimes, as Mrs. Doyle on Father Ted says, you want a "good, miserable time."  And it goes without saying that the writing is exquisite.

8 comments:

  1. Perhaps I ought to give this another shot. As an 18 year old college girl the subject matter did not strike me as funny, but I'm older and perhaps more sophisticated now...

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  2. Doesn't exactly sound uplifting Jen. Goodness, why are so man of the "classics" written by (mostly) blokes who look on life as one big sh*t pile.

    Why can't people look on the brighter side of life?

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  3. They did earn $3 and buy a phonograph.

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  4. And it ends with a wedding. That's the definition of comedy, right there.

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  5. I had a teacher in high school who had attended Ole Miss while Faulkner was still alive, and could remember him in the Oxford town square, scowling at the college students who knew he'd won the Nobel Prize so they wouldn't interrupt his conversation with the old men who knew him as Bill Faulkner who used to work in the Post Office. She recommended As I Lay Dying to me as uproariously funny, but I never got past the first couple of pages.

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  6. This is one of those, "Ok, life is not worth living after reading this," novels.

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  7. Well, as a college student I was a rabid fan of William Faulkner, but I have trouble facing him now. Still, I will often read a grim book and get a lot out of it. Coatzee's "Disgrace" is my most recent well-written bummer-read.

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  8. I've never read As I Lay Dying. I keep meaning to. I guess I'll mean to some more. You've inspired me!

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