A Death in the Family

Narrated by: Lloyd James
Length: 10 hrs and 30 mins
4 out of 5 stars (177 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Audie Award Nominee, Classic, 2013

Decades after its original publication, James Agee’s last novel seems, more than ever, an American classic. For in his lyrical, sorrowful account of a man’s death and its impact on his family, Agee painstakingly created a small world of domestic happiness and then showed how quickly and casually it could be destroyed.

On a sultry summer night in 1915, Jay Follet leaves his house in Knoxville, Tennessee, to tend to his father, whom he believes is dying. The summons turns out to be a false alarm, but on his way back to his family, Jay has a car accident and is killed instantly. Dancing back and forth in time and braiding the viewpoints of Jay’s wife, brother, and young son, Rufus, Agee creates an overwhelmingly powerful novel of innocence, tenderness, and loss that should be read aloud for the sheer music of its prose.

©1938 1956, 1957 by the James Agee Trust. 1957 by the New Yorker Magazine, Inc. 1985 by Mia Agee (P)2011 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

Critic Reviews

"People I know who read A Death in the Family forty years ago still talk about it. So do I. It is a great book." (Andre Dubus, author of Dancing after Hours)

What listeners say about A Death in the Family

Average Customer Ratings
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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

It just has to be lived through...

"A rocking chair betrayed reiterate strain, as of a defective lung; like a single note from a stupendous jews-harp, the chain of a porch swing twanged."
- James Agee, A Death in the Family

Emotionally, this unfinished autobiographical novel felt a bit like David Foster Wallace's last, unfinished novel The Pale King. But it also felt a bit like Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. It was beautiful and sad. It had no answers. Not about religion. Not about God. Not about family. It made me cry, retreading my own experiences with losing my brother a decade ago. It is strange too, to realize you are the same age the author is (45) when the author died. Mortality is a bitch.

Some of the greatness of the book is due, IMHO, to its unfinished nature. It becomes a bit impressionistic, painted with scenes and emotions that are a bit disjointed in time and space. There is also an almost rightness that such a great (and it is great) novel, like it's author, was silenced early. The novel and the author's book AND the author's life all become soft fugues of each other.

So, I can point to this book as something that resonates with me because of the shared humanity of loss and endurance and family, but it is just simply beautiful. Yes. I'm not sure if it ultimately matters that we know that Mahler's 5th is about death, or whether it is beautiful independent of that knowledge. I'm just not sure. Can we really appreciate life without that shadow of that sword that haunts all of us being and intrigral part of the fabric of our stories, our art, our belief, our families, and our lives?

4 people found this helpful

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Tedious Detail

It too long to establish the plot and the repetitious detail failed to add to the development of the story. The ending was extremely weak and disappointing and failed to tie up the meaning of whatever message the author was trying to convey.

2 people found this helpful

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Best book I have ever read

This is a work of art that reveals human strengths and weaknesses in equal measure with a faithfulness that is both honest and understanding.

I first read this book as a teenager and have re-read it as an adult. It has always been my favorite book.

Agee's lyrical descriptions and combination of realism and empathy while writing from the point of view of various characters are unsurpassed in anything else I have ever read.

As he puts a magnifying glass on an average family's reaction to a sudden death, he deftly illuminates its struggles with religion, alcoholism, parent/child relationships (both young children and their parents and adults and their parents), sibling relationships, and one family member who is nearly deaf by employing compassionate outer and inner dialogues throughout the book.

He brings the reader into the time and place of the book both as an observer and as a player of one of the roles in this poignant and quintessentially American story.

It is beautifully presented here in audio format.

1 person found this helpful

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Description

Listening to the delicate way Agee describes the deepest feeling and emotions of human kind through simple and preside descriptions for different points of view is eye opening.
I throughly enjoyed it

1 person found this helpful

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Wonderfully read!

Incredible story. Wonderfully read. James Agee is amazing. Get it, listen, enjoy!!!! Thank you Audible.

1 person found this helpful

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Outstanding!

I had never heard of this author or this book- so glad I stumbled upon it! Moving, thoughtful- a great story told by a fantastic narrator

3 people found this helpful

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spare, simple, best analysis of grief I've read

I am continuing my personal goal of reading all of the Pulitzer winners, and this gem makes me so glad that I started. This book is brutally, devastatingly sad. But is is also the best exploration of death that I have ever read. (And, this may be one of my favorite themes in literature as it exposes so much about humanity and the emotions we all feel at some time in our lives.)

There is no spoiler here as the title of A Death in the Family tells us exactly what we are going to experience. However it was a surprise that we were a third of the way into the book before that death happened. And I am so glad that was the case, because that allowed me to care about and connect with all of those who would be left behind to mourn the loss.

The entire narrative occurs over a few days, which allowed Agee to delve deeply into all the little moments. When the spouse is considering the "what ifs" before she knows the outcome of the accident, she moves from denial, to hope, to fear, to acceptance. (1. Perhaps he has the wrong person. 2. Well, if it is my husband he may need to be in bed for a while so I will make up the room downstairs. 3. I hope it isn't so bad that he is mentally deficient in the future. 4. He must be gone or I would know by now, wouldn''t I?) It is brilliant, true, and so very real. It is exactly the way we all experience an unexpected loss.

This is a spare, simple, quiet book without a traditional plot. This one is all about character and emotion. The events are mundane and uncomplicated. The describtions are about the tiniest details. But the emotional impact is profound.

The children in the story are written with authenticity. Rufus believes that he must be the caretaker of his sister. And while the other children at school are cruel towards him he takes a sliver of pleasure from his new prestige and status. He is getting attention that he never had before. And Catherine is unable to comprehend that her father is not going to come home. They argue with one another in the ways that two siblings trapped at home do. Their confusion, sadness and irritation is palpable. But they are never portrayed as too mature or too immature. Agee created children that act like children.

I will recommend this one often, but perhaps only to those who have put some space between them and the events that caused them similar pain.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Beautiful, lyrical experience.....

….long overdue for me. I'm so grateful to have read this work on the recommendation of a close friend. I will definitely read it again in the future I'm sure. Mr. Agee's writing, I feel has a way of placing me "in the story" from the very beginning. I'm not at all surprised to know that this work won the Pulitzer. I will purchase the hard copy to keep in my collection of treasures. Kip

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Beautifully written

I delayed listenting because I didn't want to get depressed. It is really a great book, and is now one of my favorite. It didn't depress me! James Agee has a brilliant style of writing.

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Outstanding audiobook.

Excellent story, excellent performance. Narrator nailed the East Tennessean accent without condescension. Very highly recommended.