Anse Bundren made promises to his wife, Addie and he intends to keep those promises. Especially the one about bringing her back to Jefferson to be buried with her people when she dies. And so, Addie does finally pass away, and it is up to Anse and his sons (Cash, Darl, Jewel, and Vardaman) and his daughter Dewey Dell to do just that. It just isn’t as easy as it sounds.
This story is told in alternating points of view. We hear the most from Darl, but all the Bundren’s (including Addie) get a chance to share their perspective, as well as some of their neighbors and the folks they come across in their journey.
The narration is fully stream-of-consciousness, which definitely gives me pause (thank you Mrs. Dalloway) and I know that I don’t have an easy time with it. To add to my experience, not all (any?) of these narrators could be considered reliable. They all have an angle that they are working, and some of them might even be a little crazy…. it isn’t easy to tell the difference. Normally I love unreliable narrators, but there is usually some sort of truth there to hang on to in comparison. In this case, it is completely up to the reader to figure out what is really actually happening here. And the actual series of events in bringing Addie’s coffin by wagon from their country home to Jefferson – it is just disaster after disaster in kind of an amazing way.
This was certainly an experience as my first Faulkner. I think I’m going to hang on to my copy for a future re-read. This is definitely one that needs to be read more than once. I’m kind of curious to see how the recent movie adaptation handled this text, and the way the narrators switch and retell the some of the same scenes from new perspectives and biases.
As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
Vintage, 1990. First published 1930.
Source: Purchased Used.