Everyone forgets, but I do not, that I grew up in the deep South. Faulkner’s prose evokes the resentful heat, the apathetic dust, and the weird low pressure of hurricane. I began this book flinching and ended confounded as repellent characters transformed into tragic figures. The story is about a family that drags a dead woman 40 miles to put her in “a hole in the ground.” The whole thing is a vile joke of Noah’s ark. Anse, the father, is a perversion of a Biblical patriach, and this ark is full of dead mother accompanied by an honor guard of buzzards. In all its anger and absurdity, As I Lay Dying captures that which is ugly and comic and important and mesmerizing about the South.
Not much has changed since Faulkner’s day. When I first moved to the backwoods, there were 16-year-olds in my elementary school. People were not less wily because they are uneducated. All around was inequality, selfishness, loyalty, forgiveness, and squandering. The grace will surprise you; the pointlessness will eat you.
Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor are hilarious when they insinuate that the more a person talks about God and His will, the more likely that person is to be wrong about damn near everything. The educated don’t fare any better. Always, the joke is on the self-sure. I read the book hating Darl, yet it is Darl who attempts the only decent thing. Later, when Darl asks Jewel whose son he is, Jewel can’t see beyond the insult to the freedom that is being offered. Maybe the South would twist anyone perceptive into Darl. Looking upon Noah’s nakedness or Sodom’s destruction or God’s face turns a person into Darl.