As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner is a novel about the Bundren family in Mississippi traveling to bury their dead mother. It follows the trials and tribulations of the sons, daughter, and father as they each deal with the death in a different way. The story opens with the mother close to death and her oldest son, Cash, preparing the casket in their yard as the daughter, Dewey Dell, stands by the mother’s bed. It’s described that the father, Anse, doesn’t really care for his dying wife, Addie, and only honors her wishes after she is dead. There are two more sons, Jewel who seems to only care for money, and Darl who is described as the only son who truly loved Addie. And finally, Vardaman, is the youngest son who doesn’t know how to interpret Addie’s death, so acts out by scaring off the doctor’s horses. Once dead, the family hitches Addie’s body up in a wagon and begins their journey to a wholly separate county. Along the way, a storm forces them to take a detour, a failed fording across a river causes Cash to break his leg, Darl starts a barn fire, and Dewey Dell searches for an aborticide for her pregnancy. The whole time, they have Addie’s body decomposing in the wagon, which lasts over a week, before they finally bury her. The novel ends with Anse finding another woman, as if to say Anse hadn’t really cared for Addie all along.
The novel has a huge cast of characters which Faulkner tackles by placing the reader in the mind of each one expertly. What’s brilliant about As I Lay Dying is that Faulkner is able to craft uniquely distinct voices for each character. For example, Vardaman sounds like a kid, Anse’s language is written in dialect, and the doctor’s thoughts are more formal. I loved how the family interacts with each other, when they use concrete as a cast for Cash’s leg, Dewey Dell’s mission for an aborticide, and Vardaman believing Addie had become a fish. It is no wonder Faulkner is seen to be one of the greatest writers of his time.
Final Rating: 4.5/5
Maxwell Suzuki is a writer, poet, and photographer based in Los Angeles.