I don’t like to reread books. This is just a personal preference; I think it has to do with my aversion to spoilers. However, I make exceptions for great literature. And, truly, As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner, is in that category.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – My Two Readings
I first read As I Lay Dying when I was in ninth grade. My understanding of literature was limited at that time. I remember being astonished by the teacher’s revelations in class. So that’s what was supposed to be happening in that chapter!
When I read the book for a second time, recently, I still felt as if I didn’t understand what was happening. The difference was, I was able to pick up the pieces and sort things out myself. And in the end, I feel that I understand the book perfectly. The novel has a lovely ending that ties everything up nicely, if rather tragically. Faulkner’s style is to drop hints that might not make sense until you read the next few chapters, and so while I was frustrated at times, I always came around to a point of comprehension.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – Structure and Title
A cool thing about As I Lay Dying is that chapter titles indicate who narrates each chapter. The story is told entirely in the first person; but that person varies widely, from members of the central family, to characters who are observing the central family. It’s a unique way of giving the reader different characters’ perspectives on the scenarios that occur.
Even the title of the book follows this rule. Upon reading the first few chapters, the reader realizes that the mother of the family is on her deathbed. Hence, the “I” in the title indicates that the mother is, in her own way, observing the events of the novel from her deathbed: literally watching her own beloved family, including all of their strivings and mistakes and troubles, as she is helpless, dying.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – One Lovely Sentence
My favorite Faulkner novel is Absalom, Absalom!, but As I Lay Dying is equally a masterpiece. Here’s a lovely sentence from As I Lay Dying, narrated by the family’s doctor:
“Beneath the quilt she is no more than a bundle of rotten sticks.”
If that doesn’t paint a picture! Damn, that’s good writing.
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner – Dopamine Hits
As I Lay Dying is full of short, easy-to-understand sentences, but it is in no way an easy read. Faulkner makes you work for comprehension. But when you do figure something out, you receive a dopamine hit akin to solving a portion of a crossword or sudoku puzzle. And when you finish the entire book and make some final realizations, you receive the massive hit of solving an entire puzzle.
It is true, however, that until you make the needed mental connections, you have to be able to tolerate reading in confusion.
Do you like novels that function as a puzzle?