Addie Bundren is dead, but she still speaks. This novel is dark as Mississippi fog, and follows the Bundrens as they carry the family matriarch cross-country for burial in the family plot. Each family member (including Addie) takes a turn narrating. Equal parts dark comedy, family drama, and apocalyptic myth, As I Lay Dying is a great American novel.
Published a year after The Sound and the Fury (a fine example of Faulkner's experimental style), As I Lay Dying is more accessible and just as good. The Bundrens are rural deep South farmers, but their story is universal: they encounter every kind of obstacle, each one symbolic of life and death at their most primal.
Faulkner is nearly superhuman in his treatment of the narrators: each has a distinct voice. From Cash (who makes Addie's coffin) to Anse (Addie's widower who won't work), every story adds to the arc without making it unwieldy. Character development from so many perspectives takes on nuance, as narrators interact, and their different perceptions of one another present an intensely realistic collective portrait. Faulkner's stream-of-consciousness technique adds immediacy and depth.
In As I Lay Dying, people struggle to make sense of their mundane lives. Some inure themselves, others are violent, all of them will die. Is Addie Bundren the fortunate one, leaving behind a legacy as conflicted as her own life? Faulkner's answer is enigmatic but understanding. This brilliant novel has directly influenced a host of writers since its publication in 1930.