My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Synopsis: After Addie Bundren dies, her family struggles to fulfill her dying wish to be buried in her home town, facing countless dangers and obstacles along the way. The story is narrated by each of the family members, including the dead woman herself, and several neighbors that they encounter along the way, revealing the hidden motives, dysfunctions, and obsessions of the various characters.
My Thoughts: If my reaction to As I Lay Dying is any indication, I don’t think William Faulkner is destined to become my favorite author any time soon. I really had to work hard to get through this book, not because the writing was challenging – although Faulkner certainly makes you work for it – but because I just couldn’t get invested in the characters or their quest. With the notable exception of Cash (and to some degree, Darl), the entire Bundren family is dysfunctional, selfish, and bitter in a way that is hard to sympathize with. Had any of them shown any concern or real feeling for each other or the mother they were burying, the oft-thwarted journey might have acquired some pathos or meaning. But the truth is that most of the family were too self-absorbed to do anything but obsess over their own issues and desires. (To be fair, the youngest son, Vardaman, does have an emotional response to the loss of his mother but his whole “My mother was a fish” thing was a bit weird and creepy.)
As the rest of the family gets mired in the muck of their own self-absorption and Darl becomes more erratic and fragmented, only Cash – the solid and conscientious son – remained at all interesting to me and his stability was so overlooked and ignored by the rest of the characters that the chapters he narrates ends mostly by trailing off rather than being completed.
To make matters worse, the chapter where the dead woman tells her story reveals that Addie didn’t really care about being buried in Jefferson but requested it as a petty revenge against her family for violating her isolation, which – again – just robs the journey of any real meaning and made it impossible for me to care at all if the Bundrens made it to Jefferson or not.
On the positive side of things, the multiple viewpoints and the very modern narration was interesting but I can find similar qualities in Edgar Lee Master’s Spoon River Anthology or in the works of Modernist writers like Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot without sacrificing an enjoyable read.