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05 June 2005

As I Lay Dying

By William Faulkner

On Friday Oprah announced that her summer reading club project would be a boxed set of three novels by William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, and Light in August. On a whim, and because of my failed attempt to read TSATF at 15 years old, I strolled past the classics section of my tiny, tiny local branch Saturday afternoon. As I Lay Dying was there on the shelf. I was surprised because I thought that other cheap readers like me would search out library copies to play along at home.

I finished the book this evening. Quick read! I know I said I would do The Handmaid's Tale next, but I wanted to get this one over with quickly and give it back to the other cheap housewives out there.

It was FANTASTIC.

Without an overall narrator, the story is told through a series of (sometimes perplexing) first-person accounts as various family members work toward the goal of burying their late mother with her kinfolk some 40 miles away. Some crazy, crazy shit in this book. A woman dead in her coffin for nine days. A lunatic son burning down a barn. A 17-yo daughter trying to get abortion medicine at every drugstore she finds. Another son patching his broken leg with cement. And their pa, Anse - I haven't met a more pathetic (in every slimy, innocent, deceiving, selfish, desperate sense of the word) character in any other novel. A brilliant read.

What is interesting, tho, is a comment I found on Amazon.com: "Does Oprah really think her audience is going to take on The Sound and the Fury, let alone As I Lay Dying? Now we are really going to find out how many people will buy a product simply based on a celebrity endorsement!"

I find this both cynical and intriguing. Frankly, I'm curious too. The set will probably become a best-seller, much like Anna Karenina did last year when she set the goal of reading the entire tome over the summer. However, there were a few sections of As I Lay Dying that required a serious re-read on my part, so anyone who takes on this one will need to work for it. I'll be curious as to how many of Oprah's viewers manage the task. Apparently she's established a whole mini course on Faulkner at Oprah.com, complete with a reading guide and a series of online lectures by various Faulkner profs who will teach about the books' meanings, his influence on modern literature, etc.

That said, I believe anyone who wrangles through this fast-paced, awful, harsh, crazy-ass thing will be well rewarded. Best thing I've read yet this year.

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