Sunday, January 15, 2012

"A Death in the Family" Review

I just checked off another book from my top 100 lists: "A Death in the Family" by James Agee. I can sum up my feelings after reading this book in two words: Holy Eff. This is the story of a man, Jay Follet, who, on his way home from visiting his family, is in a terrible car accident and dies. The book focuses on the day of his death and the following few days after including his funeral. Its an intense study of the range of emotions his family experiences upon hearing the news and dealing with the aftermath. The book is made even more meaningful when you learn the author himself died suddenly before the book was finished. Its a rough draft put together by the author's family and is as he wrote it with no editing. Its pretty much like looking into a person's thoughts.
OK, I knew going in that this was going to be a depressing read. What else would I expect considering its about a guy who died tragically, leaving behind a wife and two small children. The emotions are so raw and not Hollywood dramatized, ie no screaming, blubbering, throw yourself out a window type stuff, that you are completely sucked into these people's heads and feel the exact same way. What really got me was the kids and how their poor mother was trying to explain to a 5 and not quite 2 year old what was happening; why their father wasnt coming home. I could feel her frusteration and pain as she tried to tell her little daughter over and over that no, Daddy wasnt coming home today or ever. As in never. And I could understand the little girls thoughts and confusions. Its hard to explain to a child was death and forever is like. I especially appreciated how the author wrote the little boy's feelings. At first, the idea that his father is dead doesnt quite hit home. He feels almost a sense of pride in being different from the other kids at school and is ready to relish in the attention he knows he'll get when people find out his Dad died. Its real, no fluff, and very touching. The funeral is the most heart wrenching scene. All the emotions come flooding out and his mother is openly sobbing, the rest of the family is subdued, and the kids are starting to finally realize the impact their father's death will have on their lives. Everything is changing and nothing will be the same. The scenes where the author describes the appearance of Jay in his coffin as seen through the eyes of his son are so powerful they bring up memories of seeing my grandfather at his funeral, and I admit I got very teary-eyed. I dont think I've ever cried so much over reading a book. Be warned.

You'll need a good piece of mindless fluff to recover. I recommend "The A Circuit" by Georgina Bloomberg & Catherine Hapka. Its full of teenage drama. With horses thrown in. I read it in a few hours, and it was terrible, but it wiped the slate clean for my next read, "The Blind Assasin" by Margaret Atwood. It opens with the line, "Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge."

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