Retired teacher. Hometown: Eden, NY.
William Faulkner wrote his fifth novel, AS I LAY DYING, in only six weeks in 1929. It was published after very little editing in 1930. The novel tells the story of the Bundren family traveling to bury their dead mother. The novel is famous for its experimental narrative technique, which Faulkner began in his earlier book, THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Fifteen characters take turns narrating the story in streams of consciousness over the course of fifty-nine, sometimes overlapping sections.
At the time, Faulkner’s novel contributed substantially to the growing Modernist movement. He was no doubt influenced by the work of Sigmund Freud, whose theories about the subconscious were made increasingly popular in the 1920s. Faulkner’s novel regards subconscious thought as more important than conscious action or speech; long passages of italicized text within the novel would seem to reflect these inner workings of the mind. His prolific career in writing is marked by his 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature and two Pulitzer Prizes, one in 1955 and the other in 1962.
AS I LAY DYING is the story of the Bundren family who live in Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. Addie and Anse Bundren have five children: Darl, Jewel, Cash, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman.
The Bundren family is extremely poor, and Addie is terminally ill. Cash Bundren builds his mother’s coffin, and while Darl and Jewel are visiting a neighbor, Addie dies. The youngest son, Vardaman, is extremely distressed at his mother’s death. This trauma stems from the large fish he has just caught and cleaned, breaking it down into pieces which he no longer sees as fish. Thus he decides that his mother in death is no longer his mother, or even a person, but something that does not truly exist any longer… the fish.
Being so upset at his mother’s death and the fact that she is now nailed in a box, he drills holes in it for her and accidentally drills her face. While the others are mourning the death of Addie, her daughter Dewey Dell is distracted by her unwanted (and unknown to others) pregnancy by a local farm hand named Lafe.
Addie had requested she be buried in Jefferson, which is a grueling trek for the family to make, but Anse decides they must do it. The family sets off on their journey in a wagon pulled by mules, and loses or trades just about everything they own along the way.
The story is told from the point of view of all the characters, including the post-humus Addie, and many carefully-guarded secrets are revealed. The Bundrens encounter several obstacles on their journey, including the near-loss of Addie more than once. It is mostly through the interior monologues that we gradually absorb the psychologically complex personality of each character. The inevitable conclusion is that everyone has skeletons in the closet, and will go to incredible lengths to conceal them.
This is not a happy novel. Dark themes of identity, reality, death, poverty, suffering, religion, family, isolation, and sanity are shadowed on every page.
There is one especially intrusive theme which demands particular mention: the major theme of the absurdity of life. The main event in the novel, the family journey to Jefferson to bury Addie, is a huge joke, reminding the reader that life is indeed absurd - nothing more, nothing less. Addie wants the family to bring her body to Jefferson, not because she truly wants to be buried there but because she wants her family to make that pointless journey as a means of revenge for forcing her to live the boring domesticated life that she has lived for so long. The entire event is a pointless journey with no meaning whatsoever. Addie intensely felt that absurdity, and thus it was her final joke to make the family do something with no rhyme or reason to prove her point.
No discussion of William Faulkner is complete without an example of the naked beauty of the prose and poetry found within the interior thinking of his characters:
“I believed that I had found it. I believed that the reason was the duty to the alive, to the terrible blood, the red bitter flood boiling through the land. I would think of sin as I would think of the clothes we both wore in the world’s face, of the circumspection necessary because he was he and I was I; the sin the more utter and terrible since he was the instrument ordained by God who created the sin, to sanctify that sin He had created. While I waited for him in the woods, waiting for him before he saw me, I would think of him as dressed in sin.”
~~ Addie Bundren, describing her adultery.
Finally, if this review has stimulated you to visit or revisit Faulkner, but you have reservations predicated on negative comments by others, I urge you to consider AS I LAY DYING, one of his most accessible and rewarding novels. Having done my Master’s thesis on Faulkner in 1969, I daresay I have at least an average familiarity with his works. Forty-three years later that familiarity has been deepened by Audible’s four-narrator tour de force of this book. To experience the visual richness of style, consider reading a print version while you listen.
(Incidentally, my Vintage Books edition cost $1.65 in 1969!)
First, I'm a diehard Faulkner fan. However, the performance here truly does him a disservice. To get the full flavor of Faulkner's prose, listen to Grover Gardner's performance of Absolam, Absolam! Or Joe Barrett's performance of The Hamlet.
I have always very much enjoyed the Classics, but this book was the most confusing I have ever listened to. I didn't have any idea who the characters were and how they related to the "main" character. Son? Neighbor? What? I was over 4 hours into the book before it became clear who was who and how they related. Only book I'm sorry I ever bought!!!
Their southern accent- it really took away anything that the book could have offered. They all spoke in a terrible, exaggerated southern drawl.
No fault of Faulkner, the Audible bookmarks detract from the listening experience. Random bookmarks appear and disappear, and there's no way of titling the bookmarks. I like the idea of Audible books, but it's a hassle to copy the files onto CD and the books are a little pricey, too. Fix the bookmarking problems and I would consider buying more in the future. Otherwise, I'll buy audiobooks on CDs in the future.
This was was the complete text of my favorite chapter in the book. It was my favorite only because the chapter consisted of 5 words (yay, one less chapter to suffer through). This book was assigned in a college literature course, so I was forced to read it. I downloaded the book hoping to ease the pain by listening to it during my daily commute. I am thankful that I survived. It was read so slowly that I often stopped listening to the audiobook at home so I could speed through the pages in the text. I really hope the other books in my literature course are less painful than As I Lay Dying.
this was without a doubt the worst book I have listened to. Oprah picked a dud this time. Wish I hadn't wasted my time on this one. I didn't have feelings for any the characters and couldn't have cared less about what they thought or felt.
THIS WAS JUST AWFUL. I COULD NOT FOLLOW THE POINT OR IF THERE WAS EVEN A STORY. NOT ONE OF MY FAVORITES. OPRAH WAS OFF THE MARK WITH THIS ONE.