My initial reaction while reading William Faulkner’s as I Lay Dying:
My mother is a fish? Why a fish? Okay it all makes sense. Nothing makes sense. Who is this person narrating now? What’s going on? Is the mother dead yet? No she’s still alive. No wait she is dead. She is dead and she is narrating. Okay. Now the mother is a horse. Well, she might as well be a horse. Why are they even trying to take her coffin that way? This isn’t going to end well. Oh boy. There are too many characters. This is crazy. I feel crazy. My mother is a fish. What if your mother actually was a fish, Verdaman? Aw he’s actually pretty adorable. Everything that can go wrong is going wrong. Everything is wrong. I FEEL SO BAD I WANT TO HELP THEM. I can’t even help them this isn’t real nothing’s real my mother is a fish.
Clearly, this novel is all over the place. A different character narrates each chapter, and there are 15 different narrators in total. Each character offers his/her own point of view, most of which read as monologues, and it’s written in the stream of consciousness style. Needless to say, it gets a little confusing. Okay, okay, it gets very confusing. I have to admit I reread many chapters while going through, just to make sure I understood who was who and what, exactly, was going on. However, despite all the confusion, this book was an amazing read; it was unlike anything I have ever read before. The fact that it has 15 different narrators alone makes it stand out. That’s 15 different points of view, some of which are coming from an already dead woman in a coffin! Maybe that’s not so exciting (maybe it’s pretty creepy), but it certainly adds to the uniqueness of this novel. The way each person takes you into the story really allows you to see every angle of what is going on, which is this: Addie Bundren, the not-so-beloved wife of Anse and beloved mother of Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey, and Vardaman, dies, and her husband and five children want to transport her in the coffin that they built her to her hometown of Jefferson, Mississippi. The story is a tragedy that, at times, begs to be read as a comedy.
There is a lot to take in, and it definitely doesn’t all make sense at first, but after pushing through it, it was well worth the struggle. At the end, I felt like I knew all of these characters personally. It’s not like a story in which you have one narrator and you get in that one person’s head; you’re getting in every person’s head. You’re learning all their not-so-sentimental thoughts and their not-so-pure actions. Getting in all of their heads makes all of them seem so real and honest. All the details that one person might not want you to know, that they might choose to intentionally leave out, another character will tell you. You get every dirty secret of this 1920s Southern family. It’s crazy how one decision from Faulkner to write with 15 different points of view can drastically change the way a story is told and read.
If you enjoy stream of consciousness writing and stories of a crazy adventure that is sometimes sad, sometimes funny, and sometimes both brutally and painfully honest, I would definitely recommend this novel.
Oh, and James Franco made an interesting film adaptation in which he plays the role of Darl Bundren, Addie’s second eldest son. So there’s that.