As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner was a difficult read for me, although it’s considered one of the best novels of the 20th century. In some places this book reminds me of Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro in that the characters viewpoint and internal dialog is sometimes morbid. This possibly shows us something about the author’s perspective on death and dying, complex thoughts and feelings that readers may not necessarily consider fun and entertaining. While this is a heavy and serious read, there are humorous moments, though rather dark and ironic and (I found) the hilarious ending is given away a few chapters before the end if you’re paying attention. A novice reader may feel lost, although Faulkner drops hints along the way and doesn’t give it all up until chapters later.
For the writer, this is a book you want to read to study Faulkner’s style. He wrote this book using all the viewpoints of the characters, similar to Wilkie Collins. Faulkner gets away with a lack of punctuation and endings of sentences because he’s Faulkner. If I had turned in writing comparable to a couple of Faulkner’s Cash chapters at NYU, it’s likely it would come up during a critique. However, I say use this as an example to write the way you want to write, not the way others want you to write.
I find it interesting when influential authors comment about other known authors. Steinbeck compliments Faulkner in Travels with Charley, which prompted me to pick up this Oprah’s Book Club set of 3 Faulkner books a few years ago and read them. I admit there were times in the first half of this book when I wondered what Oprah was thinking when she chose this book. Once I finished it, I understood a little bit better why she chose it.
My favorite line in the book is Vernon Tull’s admission to himself, “But I reckon Cora’s right when she says the reason the Lord had to create women is because man don’t know his own good when he sees it.”
Not giving anything away in the book, but Dewey Dell is a girl. There are so many boy characters, that it took the first few chapters for me to figure this out. Many things happen and are said early on that are explained later, so if you’re courageous enough to hang in there, you’ll have a better understanding in the end. It gets more curious and interesting in the last half, just be prepared for a complicated ride. I suggest that you read cliff notes or summaries to see if you’ve caught it all when you’re done. Of the 3 books in this set, this is not my favorite one, but I came away from this book feeling much smarter than I know I really am.
If this is a book you want to conquer, find a quiet place and read or listen to this one.