As I Lay Dying tells the story of Addie Bundren, her death, and the subsequent trip to her hometown where she wanted to be buried. Each chapter is told from the point of view of a different person. The sons: enigmatic Cash; borderline-empathic Darl; loner Jewel; youngest child Varadman; the daughter, Dewey Dell; Anse, the selfish, uneducated father; and an extended cast of characters encountered along the way. Even Addie takes a single chapter to speak from beyond the grave.
The tone of the entire book is pitch black and macabre, full of distasteful and disturbing bits. Vardaman, drilling holes in the casket so his dead mother can “breathe”, drives a spike too far into the casket and into her face. Later he believes his mother has escaped through the holes, because she is actually a fish. Cash's leg is broken, so Anse encases it in cement, creating a makeshift oven in which it is eventually essentially baked alive. Dewey Dell is duped into a 'treatment' for her pregnancy that's essentially rape. Anse finds a new wife a day after burying his old one. Not to mention that about halfway through the book, Addie Bundren's body begins to rot and smell so badly that the Bundren's are nearly arrested.
I found the story mostly disturbing. Overall, As I Lay Dying was not a very good book, and I'm unsure if it made me want to read more of Faulkner's work or stay away from it. Faulkner reportedly wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks and claims he didn't change a word.
He is also quoted as saying that he wanted to write one book that his reputation could stand or fall upon.
My mother is a fish.
My post is a revision of Brent's.