I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this novel. Having never read anything by Faulkner before, I think I was quite surprised at the modernity of it, after I found out it was written in 1930.
The novel follows Anse Bundren, and his five children, Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell and Vardaman. Their mother, Addie, dies very early on in the novel and her one wish was that she must be buried in Jefferson, Missouri, a long way for the family to take her coffin. Although the book is about Addie and her death, she is not the main focus. The book centres around her family and how they react when she dies. The youngest son, Vardaman, is five years old and has caught and killed a fish the same day that Addie dies. He associates his mother with the fish, to the point where he believes she is actually a fish. Once the coffin has been completed, built by the eldest son, Cash, Vardaman sneaks out and puts two large holes in the top of the coffin, believing that his mother cannot breathe in there.
“And the next morning they found him in his shirt-tail laying asleep on the floor like a felled steer, and the top of the box bored clean full of holes and Cash’s new auger broke off in the last one. When they taken the lid off her they found that two of them had bored on into her face.”
It is clear that he does not understand the concept of death. The shortest chapter in the book simply reads: “My mother is a fish”. The remainder of the novel follows the family carrying the coffin in a wagon, facing the weather and each other in a fight to bury Addie at her final resting place.
The form of the novel is a series of stream-of-consciousness monologues. There are no chapter numbers, but the chapters are titled with a character’s name and their narration follows in first person. Faulkner really demonstrates each character’s personality and writes each person so differently. Vardaman has his crazy, manic ramblings, while Darl has his language quirks, arguing the case of whether something “is” or “was”. A conversation between Vardaman and Darl goes as follows:
“Jewel’s mother is a horse,” Darl said.
“Then mine can be a fish, can’t it, Darl?” I said.
. . .
“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 was, it cant be is. Can it?”
Faulkner is very experimental with his writing and word use. His form has been linked to that of James Joyce’s Ulysses, as he made a huge contribution to the experimental movements of the time. He makes us actually think about what we’re reading, rather than just allowing us to read it and not necessarily think twice on it. We are provided with a jumble of memories, moments, images that we ourselves have to piece together in order to gain the larger picture.
The one qualm I had with this novel is the description of the burial of Addie. The novel shows the family’s hardships in getting her to where she wanted to be, and yet her actual burial is crammed into one small sentence. If you’re not paying attention properly to what you’re reading, you will miss it.
“So when we stopped there to borrow the shovels we heard the graphophone playing in the house, and so when we got done with the shovels, pa says “I reckon I better take them back” “.
Her burial is downsized to “When we got done with the shovels”. This disappointed me, and I wish Faulkner had expanded on this, however as I was discussing with John Pistelli yesterday, he believes it adds to the “novel’s black-comedy aspect”. Definitely agree, but I do think it could have been developed a bit more.
Next review: Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald.