As I Lay Dying: Overdue Book Review

Richard Page

Tagged: , , ,

As I Lay Dying Photo Credit: Flickr
As I Lay Dying Photo Credit: Flickr

Faulkner’s a tricky bastard, he’s tricked his reader into expecting the unexpected. Therein lies the rub; his ironical control pattern. There is no pattern to his control, keep them on their toes seems to have been Falkner’s motto for his seventh novel. We have not one or two but fifteen different narrators, that’s fifteen separate voices to guide us along the way. Fifteen different accounts of different sections of the journey, physical and mental, have helped to make this novel a testament in  testing the boundaries of perceived literary restrictions.

The reader becomes a commodity as Faulkner attempts to maintain the ludicrous nature of the characters while balancing it with the staunchly grounded aspect of his prose. Luckily for the reader Faulkner avoids the meandering nature of his later works; “Light in August” and “Tobacco Road” where it might take more than twenty lines to describe a chair. Instead, he gets straight to the point with his no-nonsense declarative style. This helps steep the reader into a false sense of security.

The writer’s prose lack neither control nor conviction, but as for the characters? That’s a completely different story.  Any time the reader begins to get comfortable with a narrative voice it’s switched to another, oft-times wildly different voice. Yet that doesn’t prevent the reader from craving more puzzlement. The most familiar and consistent character becomes Darl, who we share thoughts with for 19 of the 59 chapters, albeit his reliability reveals itself as a failure seeing as Darl’s consciousness eventually slips into the realms of insanity.

The plausibility of this sudden psychological shift provides the most telling sign that Faulkner was going for a slice of surreal black-comedy. Darl’s internal voice goes above and beyond the humble meagreness that resonates throughout his verbalised output. There’s nothing the reader can do but laugh out loud at the lack of rationale here. For a man so wise beyond his years, he still allows the madcap antics of his family to reign free and wild. We mustn’t forget the fact that this internal voice is one of the biggest factors in retaining Darl’s lucidity. The voice may have a jarring effect upon the reader, yet it has the opposite effect for the character himself. The internal dialogue between Darl’s heart and mind forms a distraction from the inevitable; an intangible avalanche of covert insanity. Here we have our main character of sorts, seemingly the most grounded of the Bundrens, Faulkner forgoes the readers comfortable expectations once again by sticking Darl with arguably the most disastrous predicaments and outcomes of all the family members.

Sketchy Faulkner Photo Credit: Flickr
Sketchy Faulkner Photo Credit: Flickr

Each character’s individual journey is linked with their own version of a viable resolution. Dewey Dell’s pregnancy serves as a root for the family. Here we have a constant, Dewey’s unborn child is a fixture of the novel throughout. A new arrival that signals what is to come and what’s gone before. Naturally, there’s been foul-play, Dewey’s pregnancy is a result of her relations with a lowly farmhand called Lafe. Dewey Dell’s intention is to purchase her way to freedom, that’s her form of resolution, the ten dollars Lafe has given her is intended to pay the way for an abortion. She isn’t seeking new beginnings in the literal sense, perhaps her lack of philosophical musings upon her predicament provide a stronger sense of where the character’s going than say Darl with all of his angled mysticism. Dewey Dell’s plight is perhaps the least comedic and most prophetic. To coincide with her mother’s passing, we have the possibility of a new Bundren joining the ranks. Dewey’s cluelessness tends to add weight to her unconscious desire for some form of an escape route. She can’t help being pregnant but she acknowledges the two available options and the likely outcome of either choice.

There is nothing even remotely reminiscent of typicality within the novel, pre-existing tropes of southern literature are absent seeing as there weren’t any in creation at that point. Here we have a death in a family, a poor, down on its luck family, hard-working but troubled nonetheless, troubled by hidden secrets, it’s got the lot; an unwanted pregnancy, an affair and an illegitimate child. If that isn’t enough, we also have insanity guised as philosophical musings and a treacherous journey to contend with. But it’s the journey not the destination that concerns us a as readers. Faulkner’s insistence on going the whole nine yards with the number of mishaps to befall the Bundrens is a deliberate attempt to cloud each character’s judgement. The aforementioned physical and mental journey serves as a minor form of enlightenment for each family member. An unwitting acceptance of one’s destiny. The Bundren’s know exactly where they want to go in the physical sense, they also know what they’re leaving behind.

/ 11 Articles

Richard Page