Reading Faulkner

My Southern Literature class just finished reading As I Lay Dying. It was the first Faulkner novel I’ve read (I know, I know, feel free to crucify me). I got so frustrated with the stream-of-consciousness writing style during the first half of the novel that I came really close to giving up on it. I’m so, so glad I didn’t. The more I read, the more I came to see how beautiful Faulkner’s description and language really is, how heart-breakingly human (more human than reality) his characters are. My favorite character was Jewel – I loved the story of how he worked at night in secret to buy his horse. By the end of the novel, I was crying.

At the same time, for my poetry writing class I’m reading Marie Howe’s What the Living Do (more on this later). As I read through her lovely book of poems, I came across one titled “Faulkner,” which pretty accurately sums up everything I felt while reading As I Lay Dying, while also adding an new layer of meaning to the novel.

by Marie Howe

During the last two weeks of John’s life, Joe was reading
As I Lay Dying for his English class. He had to give an oral report,

and John kept asking me to read it. You’re an English teacher, he said,
you know what they want. OK, I said. But the book drifted

from the kitchen to the bedside table to the pillows of the living room couch.
What’s it about? I asked Joe, late one night.

when we were making peanut butter sandwiches. But I didn’t understand
the story as he told it: the good brothers from the bad brothers,

who was the mother’s favorite, really? And who was building the coffin,
banging and banging the nails?

The afternoon John died, I picked it up, waiting for the food from the aunts,
and the cousins. I tried to read it that night before I fell asleep

and stopped. I don’t know what finally happened.
Caddy smelled of trees, I kept thinking through those days and nights

of the wake and funeral. But that was another book, wasn’t it?
That was the idiot brother talking.


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