Monday, January 31, 2011

"As I Lay Dying"

"I made it on the bevel." - Cash, "As I Lay Dying"

I read somewhere that someone (I forget who, now) is turning this William Faulkner novel into a movie. And I think - well, how? How will that be accomplished?


UPDATE: Here we are, awhile later - 2012, in fact - saw some photos of the filming by James Franco and company (another "Rabbit" named entity, I might point out - Rabbit Bandini production company folks). It looked good.  I will have faith, I will have faith....

I was 14 and a freshman in high school when I first read that book. Immediately, I fell in love with it. My teacher was part of the reason - he loved the book too, and he explained to us young 'uns what we were about to read - a stream-of-consciousness story of Addie - a Southern woman who had died - told from the points of view of her family - from their thoughts. So it's a head game, you see - and yes, there are pieces of a story too, so that you see the family go on the trip to bury her. But - the trip itself is just a vehicle. It's what the people are saying in their minds that is most important.

Take Cash, for example - the son who builds the coffin. He isn't Darl (who reads minds, and knows exactly what's what). He isn't Jewel (his name says it all - and more, as the book progresses). Cash is much more concrete - what he can tell you is how he made the coffin. "I made it on the bevel," he says, as the first sentence of his first chapter. That's how he can explain what he's doing, what it means to him, that his mother has died. (I must credit my teacher for pointing out that bit, actually - it has stuck with me all these years too - how choosing one sentence in particular for a character's opening line can be so definitive for that character).

I didn't like Addie much as the book progressed (the mom). Aren't you supposed to like the mom? And a dead one at that? There was nothing too warm and fuzzy about her, though. Especially as the book progresses.

The daughter doesn't stand out to me much either - Daisy, I think was her name (oops -it's Dewey Dell) - the dad, I'm remembering almost not at all. Darl was something else, though. It was Darl that kept me in the story the most. Imagine, knowing everyone's thoughts... knowing all the family secrets - and not because you have lived them - but because you can hear them, in the heads of those who you are supposed to love - and who are supposed to love you.

When I was in the midst of writing my baseball novel ("Until the End of the Ninth," about a team in 1946 that died in a bus crash) - someone suggested that I add a narrator. I had the Spirit Woman already, as a third person character - the one who helps the men transition from life into death. Suddenly I had a narrator too - who was semi-omniscient, who could read most thoughts and be basically wherever I needed the narrator to be - not identified as male or female - time period also unidentified - did he (or she) come from a different time period? and only the Spirit Woman was able to see him (or her). Interestingly, nobody has complained to me about the narrator. The narrator has seemed to give comfort without concern.

It was "As I Lay Dying" that inspired me to have such a narrator. Thank you, William Faulkner, for your courage back in 1930 to try the almost-unimaginable. Almost, but not quite, out of reach of the imagination - I mean, you thought of it, didn't you? It was there for the imagining. I hope - believe - I did justice to that style. And when they make "As I Lay Dying" into a movie, I hope they can do justice to what William Faulkner intended by telling that story - not just through the story's details, but by the way he told it, too.

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