As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text (Modern Library) As I Lay DyingAs I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text (Modern Library) As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Somehow I never got around to reading this until now. But this book truly is incredible with its layers of narration and it’s not-so-subtle commentary on warped motherhood and procreation. Or maybe it is subtle–I can’t decide if Faulkner is criticizing the structures that create the grotesque Addie and vapid Dewy Dell or a part of those very structures in his creation of them.

Addie talks about the empty spaces left by people’s words, “that are just the gaps in people’s lacks” and then she literally defines her un-virgin body as a [        ], empty space another lack, which seems to speak to the idea that women, of course, have always been defined by their “lack.” And then there’s Dewey Dell who is so empty and confused that she can’t even speak, who can’t even talk about “how everything in the world for me is inside a tub full of guts.” She is now “full” from her “accidental” pregnancy, one that seems to come about because of some weird internal game of hers where if her bag of cotton was full by the time she got to the end of the row, she and Lafe would go off into the woods together. And then Lafe has been stuffing her bag with his cotton all along… In the end she doesn’t even know how to ask for the abortion she wants and her lack of language just keep her “full” until she is once more victimized/abused by the drug store guy who acts like he will help her.

And all the men in this novel seem to also be empty vessels that are manipulated after death by a mother who hates them. Or is it all a joke? Was Anse just going to Jefferson to get his new teeth and his new wife? Why was Jewel so hell-bent on saving her coffin (the fact that Anse isn’t his father is a topic for another day)? And this doesn’t even touch on Darl’s insanity and Cora’s religous hypocrisy or all the other characters and their multiple readings and points-of-view. What about Cash and his insistence that his broken leg didn’t “bother him none,” even when Darl and Anse poured concrete on it? He lacks language too, or at least the ability to speak up for himself, to put a voice to his pain. And is Vardaman just young or not all there? Is he a kid or a teenager and is his insistence that his mother is a fish just his way of dealing with death? I have it on good authority that the act of cleaning a fish is many boys’ first brush with it. Is Vardaman saying “My mother is a fish” just the rambling of a not-all-there, mentally challenged person, or is it the only way his kid-brain can process the grief it feels at his mother’s death?

In the end, this book and it’s multiple narrators and voices seems to be about the emptiness of language, the futility of it. In her monologue, Addie says of Anse, “He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack.” Words are meaningless and they never say what we want them to anyway.

I feel like I’ve barely cracked this book and I will definitely be reading it again. If anyone out in computerland has some insights, I’d love to hear them

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