As I Lay Dying

Several years ago, I turned the last page on a detective novel, one of those outrageously successful books that Americans devour. The author was not as successful as John Grisham or James Patterson, but had still managed to produce a series of books that sold well. This is a dream come true for most writers because these books are often produced very quickly and make a lot of money.

Most writers, you see, fit better into the starving artist club. I used to think that was a cute moniker until I became a writer. It is not. Most of us don’t make much money. Anne Lamott, who is a gifted and successful writer, once said that she did not stop living in financial crisis until after her fourth book was published.

So, anyway, I finished this book, this successful novel, and I thought – “This book reeks. The plot is weak. The characters are one dimensional. The ending is impotent. This book was a waste of my time.”

And so, I returned the book to my brother-in-law, who is one of the smartest guys I know and usually has better taste, and said “I’m never going to read crap again.”

Since that time, I have kept a list of books to read and worked my way through them one by one. Recently, I read A Separate Peace. Earlier in the year, I delved into teenage misery (As if I need more. I live with a 16-year-old.) in The Catcher In The Rye and then spent beautiful evenings with My Antonia.

But this week, one of the greats let me down.

Is it a crime to say that I did not enjoy most of Faulkner’s, As I Lay Dying? I found most of the first person accounts of a mother’s death and journey toward burial exhausting. Faulkner certainly captured ignorance and insanity, but reading page after page of it threatened to carry me off to the asylum with poor Darl, the most eloquent character in the book.

I mean, how many times can a person hear Vardaman say, “My mother is a fish?”

So, it was exhausting and unenjoyable, but the fantastic thing about a great writer is that even so, Faulkner still left an impression on my soul. I will never forget Jewel’s rage,the quiet suffering of Cash, or the helplessness of Dewy Dell.

Most of all, Faulkner left me considering Anse, and all of the terrible atrocities we commit under the guise of nobility.

What a relief it is that Addie is buried at last, and that her messed up family will ride that rickety wagon on home without me. I am happy to stand on the side of the road with the good citizens of Jefferson, waving good-bye and good riddance, with a copy of The Phantom Of the Opera in my hand. I hope it is kinder to me.

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