Ok, I’m taking this graduate course over selected works of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner, and we were to have read "As I Lay Dying" for last night’s class. In case you haven’t read this book, here’s the basic premise: Addie Bundren is dying, and her family is preparing to bury her in Jefferson, Mississippi. This is taking place back when people traveled on wagons and shit in July.
The story is told by the family members—including Addie (postmortem)—as well as some of the neighbors and other people they encounter. For example, the book starts off with a chapter titled “Darl” and it’s Darl, one of the sons, talking about what’s going on. Then a little bit later somebody else has a chapter, then someone else, then maybe it’s back to Darl, and on and on like that. Most of the story is about the trip to Jefferson. Addie dies pretty early in the book. While I was reading the book, I kept thinking: “Holy shit, that sucks!”—not the writing, but the things that happen to this dysfunctional, poverty-stricken family. I honestly didn’t know what to think about it. Then I was telling a friend about it, and I began recapping some of the events of this book, and I couldn’t stop laughing. One of Addie’s sons builds her coffin by hand right beside her bedroom window so she can see what he’s doing. After she dies, the youngest son drills holes into the top of the coffin so she can breathe. They can’t even start out for Jefferson until two of the sons get back with the wagon—they decided to take another load of something to make three more dollars. The river floods the night before they leave, so they can’t cross the river in the wagon, but they try it anyway, and a log pops up and causes the wagon to topple over. So some of the sons are trying to catch the coffin while the wagon is tipping, and the horses die, and one of the sons nearly drowns because he can’t swim, but instead just breaks one of his legs. When they finally do get back to traveling, they stop at a town to buy some cement to pour on the broken leg to set it. That ends up turning his entire leg black before they get to Jefferson—not to mention this poor guy is having to travel laying on top of his mother’s coffin that he built. There are buzzards following them, and they just increase with time. When they come through a town, people step back and cover their noses because of the smell. And this goes on and on and on.
I started thinking about this story with a “O Brother, Where Are Thou?” sort of angle, and decided that this was a great comedic story. Dark comedy, sure. But comedy all the same.
I made the mistake of sharing this with my classmates and Dr. Park, who absolutely loves Faulkner. Apparently Faulkner did not intend for this to be a comedy of that type. I think there were a couple of people who were actually appalled just the suggestion. I’m guessing those people probably don’t read this web site.
So, I’m asking people more intelligent than a bunch of graduate students working on their masters’ degrees. I’m asking you Strangelanders out there to let me know what you think. If you’ve read the book, I would love to know your thoughts. If you haven’t, and you have the time—check it out and let me know.