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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

As I Lay Dying

William Faulkner
As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying
Historically, I’ve not had the easiest time with Faulkner. He’s got a way of making the mundane sound… well, mundane. I figured that As I Lay Dying at least has a hook — each chapter is narrated by a different character, in their own voices with their own idiosyncrasies. That seems like it ought to work well — you get a sequence of events, told with some degree of overlap, and the different perspectives on what really happend and how it really happened sketch in the details in a more nuanced way than the standard third-person or single first-person narration would. It’s a gimmick that has since served many a film writer well.
As I Lay Dying
But I don’t find it overly compelling in As I Lay Dying for a number of reasons. To me, the characters themselves just aren’t adequately differentiated. Faulkner is telling a story of small-town pathos, but his characters come from such a small world that they have too much in common. For one, there’s the imposed rural dialect. Even the most literate characters come across as using dialogue written by Hollywood for “Hee-Haw”. While I’m well aware that various rural Southern dialects do exist, and while I’d agree that putting academic English into the mouths of early 20th century farmers would be inappropriate, it still makes for a wearying read, and one in which the narrative voices begin to slur together into a stew of “Cain’t I?” and “‘Cuz”, and it deters from the very effect Faulkner sets off to create.
The other issue is that there isn’t much to the story other than the narrative voice and structure. The setup is a Steinbeck-style journey of a family to bury their deceased mother at the homeplace, but there’s very little of the Steinbeck-style character evolution. The characters come out of the tale pretty much the same as they went into it, and the telling is pretty much just the process of character exposition. If the characters were more engaging or more likeable, that might be enough. But they aren’t, and it isn’t.
I don’t mean to sound like it’s a terrible book — it isn’t. It’s a literary accomplishment, it gives voice to the American South, etc., etc. But for me, it was more work than the story was worth. Talking to rural Southerners is one thing; having to struggle through a transliterated printed version of the dialect is another. If I want rural pathos, I’ll just have a drink with my neighbors.

Old-Time Band Name Generator

It’s been kind of a slow week at work, so yesterday afternoon I scratched together a bit of code to generate old-timey-sounding band names. So simple, and yet so addicting…