Bowie made an obvious choice with William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. It’s macabre, funny, and tragic, in other words true southern gothic by the best of the best. I found it over the top. Reading it felt like eating too much of a too rich, too sweet cake. The body rebels, but the taste buds scream, “More, more!” Dying tells the story of the members of the Bundren family, who begin construction of the “matriarch” Addie’s coffin well before she dies. Each person contributes to the harrowing misadventure as they travel over miles and days with her unembalmed corpse so they can honor her wish to be buried in her hometown. The shift in viewpoint can be confusing, but it’s worth the effort. The best comes from Vardaman (love those names) who recreates his mother as a fish and mystifies his sister and brothers with his imagination.
Having just finished reading To Kill a Mockingbird, I marveled at how much all southern writers owe the Bard of Oxford. The Bundrens and the Ewells are cut from the same moth-eaten patched up cloth. Faulkner writes better horror, too. I had to stop reading when they were about to drop the coffin with the ripening body into the flooded river.
Faulkner pulls off a masterstroke. A perceptive reader can foresee the patriarch Anse Bundren’s outcome – but Darl’s serves up the unexpected shock that Mother achieved with The Street. (Based on her library, she read everything Faulkner wrote.)
Since I was reading this novel to find the American “voice,” I asked what it contributed. This voice is pure American – actually pure American South, and in this case a south devoid of anyone of African descent except for a few slurs. It epitomizes all that is negative about humanity. There is no uplift here.