Perhaps when things are a bit more serene and livable, some time out in an arbor chair, with the overhanging limbs and the hot breeze giving the proper reverence and setting to Faulkner (he’s always a Summer read, I think. You get the tastes and the sweat and the sheer overlying weight of the weather to set the stage, as well as the theme), I may continue reading As I Lay Dying, swapping the genteel pomp of the Dashwoods, with their soft intrigues and loves lost and misunderstandings and honor-well-served, for the grim, homemade-coffin trek to bury Addie Bundren amongst her Own People.
And it's not a sad book, as you'd think---it's just a well-told journey, seen by six different sets of eyes. It’s tiny glimpses of each family member as they gather for their Mother’s last days, as they take her home to her family graveyard, told in small moments of their thoughts---tiny half-page blips, sometimes, like the eye of a camera panning a crowd and snapping this one and that for one brief glance.
I've known ALL these people, especially in my childhood, when the old times still lingered and the old ways were still the norm---the sitting-up-all-night, the wakes and the singing, the gathering of the men in the stomped-down yard, passing bottles and time with a quick wrist-swipe at both whilst the women tended to things in the house.
I can remember four all-night-sit-up-with-the-deads in the house of my childhood---the shining metal caskets were wheeled in through the front door, through the vestibule arch, and parked square-ways right in front of the big double-windows of the living room like a new piano. Quiet voices, bowls of potato salad set down on the kitchen counter by kind neighbors, the scent of bouquets of garden-cut blooms set head and foot of the casket, the pile of hats on the hall bench, as the men removed them to honor the house and the dead, passing by on the way to the kitchen for a cold drink. For the first time, I was allowed to click the lock on my bathroom door for my bedtime bath, and I wore the new nylon duster from two Christmases ago over my gown for the five steps to my room, where I closed myself in, listening late to the soft murmurs in the house.
Even the names in this book are notional and obscurely odd: Anse, the shirking, whining father and Cash who builds the coffin in full view and sound of his Mother’s bedroom window; Jewel-who’s-a-man and Dewey Dell the only daughter and Darl and small Vardaman, whose name is the only one I've ever heard as a person's name, and at least recognizable as a town in my state.
They are of their age, of the wagon-and-horse, of the overalls-and-sweat and dipper-and-bucket age, pondering or mutely accepting or cursing the fate which set them in such a hard place, in such times.
And I’ll go out into the quiet breeze, sitting with a pitcher of well-iced tea, frivolously reading in the afternoon, but from a background of knowing these grim, enduring people, smelling the scents of their journey and their trials---remembering it, being FROM it, but not OF it. Not any more.