Synopsis: As I Lay Dying is Faulkner's harrowing account of the Bundren family's odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members—including Addie herself—the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos.
Written and published right as The Great Depression hit America, William Faulkner's classic novel As I Lay Dying tells the story of an uneducated, poor, and dysfunctional family's journey across their home state of Mississippi to bury wife and mother Addie where she grew up, as promised by her husband, Anse, before her death.
From the start, this novel is not an easy one -- nor should it be. It deals with the deepest parts of each character's desires and motivators. It shows the family members -- and, in some way, the reader -- at their most unlikable and greedy. Faulkner deals with the way the family reacts to Addie's death quite honestly. Some are saddened, and some are relieved. They all have concerns of their own and life must go on, regardless. Faulkner is unflinching in showing Vardaman's childish misunderstanding of the world around him, Anse's desire to find a younger, prettier woman to marry, Dewey Dell's desire to have an abortion after finding she's pregnant with a bastard child, et cetera. It's with this baggage -- amongst so much more -- that this family of four sons, daughter, and father hitch up in the family wagon with Mom's coffin in tow and set off across Mississippi to bury their dead and.... maybe satisfy their wants as well.
As I said before, this is not an easy novel to read. Each chapter is told in first person from the perspective of a different character -- each family member and every person they encounter, adding up to about 15 characters in all. At times the reader has not a clue who it is who's talking (thank God for sparknotes!), but I enjoyed that aspect of the reading a bit -- I enjoy a good reading challenge from time to time. Faulkner is never completely clear about his characters' thoughts or actions, or what they even mean. There is no linear narrative here. Some things are literal, and some things seem literal but aren't. That's the beauty of Faulkner -- nothing is completely, 100% clear so it's possible to catch tons of new things upon rereads.
As I Lay Dying is definitely deserving of its "classic American novel" status. Faulkner explores grief and comedy masterfully through many characters, all of whom are fully developed, memorable, and of distinctive voice (pay special attention to Darl's sections -- those are my favorites!). Five stars, easily, and I might just go read it again.