As I Lay Dying
It would just be me and her on a high hill and me rolling the rocks down the hill at their faces, picking them up and throwing them down the hill faces and teeth and all by God until she was quiet and not that goddamn adze going One lick less. One lick less and we could be quiet
The above passage from As I Lay Dying always stuck with me. My memory messed up where it came in the story. When I thought back on it I thought of it as coming during Addie’s chapter and it was her talking about the minister, as if there was anybody that Addie actually cared for. It makes more sense coming in Jewell’s section and it lets us have the sympathy for Jewel, it firmly turns us around from the accusations, especially from Cora, that Jewell cared the least for Addie.
This was another watershed book for me in the fairly significant summer, for me at least, of 2008. I had my Survey of American Literature 2 class, a good class taught by a great teacher with some other great students in there. I had class for a couple hours a day in the morning and then came back to the apartment where I went to the pool and did my reading for the day. The quote that is given back to me most often from this period came from my reading Henry James and getting frustrated by the prose I told my roommate that James was writing in a Post Huck Finn world and “There’s no excuse for this bullshit.” I have, and always will be, a very simple critic.
It was, however, in reading As I Lay Dying that I felt a switch flip. I had known about stream of conscious writing, I’d read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas but this was a more southern thing (a more obvious statement may not be typed in all of cyberspace today) it moved at a more leisurely pace without losing any of the importance of the words, if anything, the words became more important because they weren’t just being thrown at you. I also discovered my love of writing in the first person as a result of reading through these books. About half of the things I write are in the first person point of view now and it’s those stories that I feel I get really into and get the most joy out of reading.
The story and characters in the book felt familiar as well. I could see aspects of my family in the Bundrens and that familiarity endeared me to the story. When Anse sends his children off to make three quick dollars while their mother lay in house dying, I knew who he was, I had more than a few relatives I could think of that fit the bill.
At the time in my life that I found it, and the time in my life that I’m revisiting it, I was in a transition. In the summer between by sophomore and junior years of college I’d had my first Creative Writing class, I was in my first English class, this was when the writing bug really got into me, and there was the genius of Faulkner showing me a way, not that I understood a lot of what was said, and if I hadn’t had a very capable teacher guiding me through it the book may not have had anywhere near the same impact, but I did have a damn good teacher.
Now I am in South Carolina, far removed from my teachers, but I’ve been fortunate enough to talk maintain some communications with them, never as much as I would like to, and to recognize some of my good friends as valuable teachers as well. I’m always on the lookout for new teachers, be they in print or in life and it has been one of the great good fortunes of my life that I’ve had damn fine teachers.
I couldn’t get out of a piece on As I Lay Dying without mentioning that “My mother is a fish” is my favorite chapter of any piece of literature.