“Barely articulate, profoundly insightful”
Let’s first address the elephant in the room. The writing style of this novel is beyond comprehension. Or at the least, it is unintelligible to ordinary beings who read and write in commonplace English and are not aware of the vernacular particular to a certain time, age and locality. This must alienate more than half of the readers who had the pleasure (and nuisance) of reading this till the end. As for myself, I must confess, I needed chapter by chapter help to figure out what was being implied under half-baked sentences that reverberated of stream of consciousness and metaphorical interior monologues. But as I got a hang of the narrative style (more than half way through the book), the reading became more consistent and fluid with much of understanding of what was being said established by the setting and which character was speaking.
A simplistic plot synopsis states this novel to be an account of a bereaved family undertaking a journey to bury their recently deceased mother. But the plot is far more complex than this. Throughout the journey we get to explore all the characters, their individual short-comings, faults and virtues, their understanding of the situation they are in and their personal reasoning for the tragic incidents that befall them. Characters like Cash and Darl are perceptive and rational, others like Vardaman and Dewey Dell see the world through their own myopic lens.
Perhaps one of the strongest elements interwoven with the plot is that of the sense of belonging in community life. Tragedy has struck one family but the entire community, in its myriad of characters, extends its help. Neighbours, acquaintances, work-place associates all join hands together to assist one ill-fated family reach their objective.
There are recurrent questions on identity and the self, religion is oft used as a crutch to excuse oneself of responsibilities, and there is an incessant pattern of justification (of behaviour, of situations) in order to survive against all odds. The characters are distanced from one another yet function as a family unit in hours of need. Despite nature’s brunt bearing hard upon them time and time again, the Bundren family endures.
“As I Lay Dying” is a story of incredible fortitude, not just on the part of the Bundren family but also of the reader. The plot is poignant but only for those who are willing to unravel its terribly winding narrative.
- The path runs straight as a plumb-line, worn smooth by feet and baked brick-hard by July
- the still surface of the water a round orifice in nothingness, where before I stirred it awake with the dipper I could see maybe a star or two in the bucket, and maybe in the dipper a star or two before I drank
- They descend the hill in a series of spine-jolting jumps
- her hands laying on the quilt like two of them roots dug up
- Vardaman comes back and picks up the fish. It slides out of his hands, smearing wet dirt onto him, and flops down, dirtying itself again, gapmouthed, goggle-eyed, hiding into the dust like it was ashamed of being dead, like it was in a hurry to get back hid again
- When He aims for something to be always a-moving, He makes it long ways, like a road or a horse or a wagon, but when He aims for something to stay put, He makes it up-and-down ways, like a tree or a man
- I can remember how when I was young I believed death to be a phenomenon of the body; now I know it to be merely a function of the mind—and that of the minds of the ones who suffer the bereavement
- The nihilists say it is the end; the fundamentalists, the beginning; when in reality it is no more than a single tenant or family moving out of a tenement or a town.
- I can feel where the fish was in the dust. It is cut up into pieces of not-fish now, not-blood on my hands and overalls. Then it wasn’t so. It hadn’t happened then
- be durn if it didn’t give me the creeps. Now and then a fellow gets to thinking. About all the sorrow and afflictions in this world; how it’s liable to strike anywhere, like lightning
- Cash is wet to the skin. Yet the motion of the saw has not faltered, as though it and the arm functioned in a tranquil conviction that rain was an illusion of the mind.
- Darl is my brother. “Then what is your ma, Darl?” I said. “I haven’t got ere one,” Darl said. “Because if I had one, it is was. And if it is was, it cant be is. Can it?” “No,” I said. “Then I am not,” Darl said. “Am I?” “No,” I said. I am. Darl is my brother.
- tried to teach us that deceit was such that, in a world where it was, nothing else could be very bad or very important, not even poverty
- Against the jungle Jewel’s horse looks like a patchwork quilt hung on a line.
- When he was born I knew that motherhood was invented by someone who had to have a word for it because the ones that had the children didn’t care whether there was a word for it or not
- That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at
- I knew that fear was invented by someone that had never had the fear; pride, who never had the pride
- I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn’t need a word for that anymore than for pride or fear. Cash did not need
- She had sworn then that she would never tell it, but eternity is a fearsome thing to face
- How do our lives ravel out into the no-wind, no-sound, the weary gestures wearily recapitulant: echoes of old compulsions with no-hand on no-strings: in sunset we fall into furious attitudes, dead gestures of dolls
- Cash broke his leg and now the sawdust is running out. He is bleeding to death is Cash.