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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

Mistakes were made

As I Lay Dying - William Faulkner

As I've gotten older I find I am more receptive to the comedy in canonical authors such as Faulkner and Joyce. Early on the impression I worked from was one of reverence that event their wordplay was poetic and meaningful and should evoke awe, which is part of it, but I've come to understand that a chuckle is a legitimate response, especially in As I Lay Dying.


Watching internet fail videos at the bar is an odd place to be reminded of this literary classic, but there seems to be a direct line between those videos and the misadventures of the Bundren family, who from the moment they set to raise a few more dollars before their mother dies, make a series of obviously terrible decisions. 


This isn't to make it out as a farce, As I Lay Dying is also a study of a failing family, the one folks in town talk about, what personal failings are driving them to ruin.


The perspective shifts from person to person, mostly within the Bundren family but also jumping into some of the people they encounter on the way, people who usually wind up the worse for offering a neighborly hand. The voice is always in the vernacular which can be difficult, and I would imagine constraining, but he weaves something beautiful out of it.


He writes around the events of the story, what happened is not immediately clear, details emerge and you start to piece together what happened. It can difficult but it brings you in to the writing. If you want to make a friend you ask them for a favor, if you want to engage people with your writing make them think. I can see how he and Hemingway represent opposite ends of a spectrum, it's not that Faulkner is flowery where Hemingway is terse, it's that Hemingway is linear where Faulkner is elliptical. 


Darl is reliable as the sensitive soul to reflect on the world of the Bundrens but he's not a crutch. Faulkner seems to thrive under the constraints of other characters. Vardaman, the youngest, still doesn't understand all that's happening around him and the family is little interested in educating him, so while we are trying to figure out what has happened through what the other characters tell us, Vardaman is trying to make sense of what he has seen without the help of his father or older siblings. It cuts through the literal and practical accounts of the other characters and his exchanges with Darl early in the book provide for some bizarre insights.


Cash stands out as well. He closes the book even though his presence in the beginning of the story is largely limited to the ever-present sound of his saw as he prepares the coffin for Addie. He starts showing up intermittently, usually with a practical concern, the coffin is not balanced correctly or why it is better to bevel the edges even if it takes some extra time in the rain. It takes a while for him to be explicitly tied to music in the way of  his interest in buying a record player, but there is a musicality to him from the start, the sound of the saw, the repetition. 


FAULKNER POSTS WILL RETURN with The Sound and the Fury