Book Review: As I Lay Dying

Am I allowed to say this book is pretentious?

This is my second William Faulkner book, and after The Sound and the Fury, it was kind of a letdown. Still the work of an excellent writer, and the concept is nothing short of genius, but the execution felt half-baked to me.

Things that worked:

  • the concept - the idea of a family travelling through all sorts of natural disasters in order to fulfill a promise to their deceased wife/mother is great, especially once the realities of travelling with a ripe, decaying corpse settle in.

  • the cast - most of the main characters are well considered, and their choices and motivations drive the story, rather than the other way around.

  • the ending - at least as it pertains to Anse, not Darl; Anse is a shit right to the end, and I love it.

Things that didn't:

  • Vardaman - man, I could just not believe these were the thoughts and rationalization of a child. With the exception of drilling holes into the coffin (and inadvertently through his mother's face) to allow her to breathe, I couldn't buy into his thought processes, and eagerly awaited the end of his chapters.

  • Dewey Dell - her character felt underdeveloped and stereotypical to me. She could have been much more interesting, especially as one of the few female characters in the story.

  • Darl - either myself or Faulkner missed the boat on this one, because I did not pick up on his apparent descent into madness at all. Like, at all. He's presented as the grounded one, the rational one, the educated (or even just naturally smarter) one, so maybe I just gave him the benefit of the doubt when things got kind of weird. Either way, the reveal that he burned down the barn and was taken to the looney bin was very jarring, and it left a bitter taste in my mouth. I'm all for characters going mad, but as with Daenerys in the last season of Game of Thrones, I don't feel the execution was sufficient. Maybe it was the format of the storytelling, maybe it was my own preconception/trust that Darl was the only one who wasn't nuts to begin with, maybe I just wasn't astute enough. The bottom line is that I was disappointed.

Glad I read it? I guess. Glad it's done, at least. Am I eager to pick up another Faulkner book? Ask me in 2021.