As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

Cover via Goodreads.

Cover via Goodreads.

Rating: 2/5 stars.

When I first heard of As I Lay Dying, I imagined a grand romance with star-crossed lovers fighting to stay together until the very end. I imagined a more mature Juliet calling out to Romeo to rescue her from her imminent doom, and I imagined a bittersweet ending bathed in pathos and poignancy. I expected an epic story featuring several deep themes: love, loss, heartbreak.

Well, now I know not to judge a book by its title.

As I Lay Dying is actually about the Bundren family, a messy group of uncouth Southerners who embark on a journey to Jefferson to bury their wife and mother, Addie. On the way they encounter difficulties ranging from storms to broken body parts, and their ambitions are tested accordingly.

I could justify any star rating for this book, but I based my two-star rating on how much I personally enjoyed it. For the first fifty pages I felt annoyed because of Faulkner’s lackluster, seemingly pretentious writing. However, when I got deeper into the story and the symbolism started to seep in, I appreciated how there was so much happening that wasn’t written on the page. The steam of consciousness style employed by Faulkner adds a layer of difficulty to the narration. Characters shares their immediate thoughts as events occur, which was confusing, but by the end I loved the reciprocity of how certain plot points and character developments were revealed.

While from a literary standpoint As I Lay Dying is worthy of all its lauds, I didn’t love it. None of the characters were particularly praiseworthy and the themes of the novel, while interesting, weren’t as mind-blowing as the ones incorporated into other books I’ve read. Recommended to those who are fans of stream of consciousness and want to try Faulkner for the first time – I’ve heard that his other books are much more difficult to comprehend.

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14 Comments

Filed under 2 stars, Book Reviews, Books

14 responses to “As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

  1. Oh I’m so sad you didn’t enjoy this book, though to be honest, I’m not surprised. It falls into the category of books that seems as though it was written to sound important rather than to tell a story, like Fight Club and Atlas Shrugged. Faulkner isn’t exactly universally loved, either. I’m personally not a huge fan as a whole, but I did particularly enjoy this one. I would strongly recommend not putting yourself through the torture of The Sound and The Fury, especially if you had no positive preference for this one.

    • Yep, exactly – as Dan said down below, Faulkner sacrificed a lot of the things people enjoy in books to produce something that sounds important and intellectual. From reading other people’s reviews and literary criticism of Faulkner’s work I ascertain that most people either love him or strongly dislike him. Thanks for the warning; while The Sound and The Fury sounds passionate and beautiful, I’ll probably pass.

  2. I haven’t read this book, but I read The Sound and the Fury. If you ever want to be really angry and annoyed (why would you?), read that novel. While I enjoy experimentation, Faulker seems to sacrifice everything people like about books (story, interesting characters, clarity) in order to make a bunch of nonsense that is entertaining for no one.

    • What a coincidence that the book is titled The Sound and the Fury, then. Thank you for the warning, I’ll pass on it unless I have to read it for academic purposes later on!

      • Yeah, there was definitely a lot of fury going on. I respect what he was trying to do, but I couldn’t enjoy the first fourth of the book. As a reader, I need some logic to follow to remain interested, and the first section of the Sound and the Fury has very little to understand. It might as well have been the word “the” for fifty pages, because I didn’t follow any of it until I looked up more information online.

        As I Lay Dying sounds a bit more clear, but I probably wouldn’t seek out another Faulkner book on purpose.

        • That’s understandable, as the exposition of a book is supposed to lay the groundwork of the story, introduce the characters, etc. An incomprehensible beginning is never a portent of a positive reading experience. I suppose it’s good that those online information sources exist, and ditto on Faulkner.

  3. I always find that frustrating, too – when I don’t like a “good” book, one of those novels that everyone says is a masterpiece, but is practically painful for me to read because I hate it so much. It makes me feel like a Neanderthal, like my tastes aren’t developed enough to appreciate “true” literature. I’m still trying to get over that. Reading IS supposed to be enjoyable, after all.

    • After you read enough classics/literature that disappoint you, it gets easier to realize that just because a majority of people like a book or deem it to be praiseworthy doesn’t mean that you will enjoy it. I’m not saying that all classics are bad – there are a myriad of them that are masterpieces – but just because a book is considered a classic doesn’t mean everyone will feel that way. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  4. Reblogged this on yasniger and commented:
    A must read for those who haven’t it

  5. I have been wanting to read this book for only one reason: the five word chapter. Although, judging from your review it is not worth it…

    • While that was my favorite chapter, I wouldn’t recommend reading the entire book just to get to it. It doesn’t occur too late in the novel though so if you want to give it a shot and see if you’re still interested by the time you encounter it, I’d say go ahead.

  6. Nice blog post here – “As I Lay Dying” makes my top 5 novel list

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