James Agee: A Death in the Family



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James Agee was only six years old when his young father died in an automobile accident A Death in the Family is an autobiographical novel of that sad time with much of the novel seen through a child s The DIY Music Manual. Randy Chertkow Jason Feehan eyes The novel was unfinished when James Agee also died at a young age Hisditor had to decide where to place several gorgeously written flashback scenes of happier days for the family so that they would not detract from the main storyThe beginning of the nove I have never seen the portrait of grief drawn so vividly and sporadically as in Agee s posthumous novel A Death in the Family Every space light distance and shadow weigh heavy against No Mans Daughter every ounce of feeling derive from the minutiae ofveryday gestures and conversations and they weigh heaviest once they turn into a series of memories Since this novel does not rely on a rich narrative but on the inevitable wake of death it painfully but genuinely communicates in often repetitive but differently structured phrases a confrontation with mortality through its band of characters The children are confused the others conflicted one is ladened with guilt the wife is submerged both in Melody on Loan emptiness and a roller coaster ofmotions because in A Death in the Family no months or years roll by but a day by day painstaking coping until the funeral But as much as Agee s prose is stunning it feels incomplete with some characters underused and underdeveloped The italicised parts which are interspersed between the present seem out of place The Toll-Gate even dull and negligible Whilst its religious themes are also appreciable I can t help but notice how unpolished they are that they just meddle with the novel s intent It is always uestionable to publish an author s leftover works after a sudden death They often look like a mosaic created from whatever scraps are available This is noticeable in A Death in the Family but how palpably slow moving this all is gives bereavement the potential to immortalise its mourners surrounded by its many arms in whispers of gnawing thoughts of the departed For this they live on Two InuiriesI m starting this review for the third time hoping to make it focused and succinct Let s start with the best the book has to offer Knoxville Agee s childhood home On the rough wet grass of the back yard my father and mother have spread uilts We all lie there my mother my father my uncle my aunt and I too am lying there First we were sitting up then one of us lay down and then we all lay down on our stomachs or on our sides or on our backs and they have kept on talking They are not talking much and the talk is uiet of nothing in particular of nothing at all in particular of nothing at all By some chance here they are all on thisarth and who shall ver tell the sorrow of being on this arth lying on uilts on the grass in a summer Empire of the Saviours (Chronicles of a Cosmic Warlord, evening among the sounds of the night After a little I am taken in and put to bed Sleep soft smiling draws me unto her and those receive me who uietly treat me as one familiar and well beloved in that home but will not oh will not not now notver but will not Ex On The Beach ever tell me who I am Anyone who knows James Agee s rapturous prose poem Knoxville Summer 1915 whether in print or in Samuel Barber svocative setting for soprano and orchestra will recognize the voice of genius We hear it in the unhurried description of the summer Good Thinking evening sounds the ordinary detail of family life in the garden the mazy repetitions the lapping rhythm lulling the six year old boy toventual sleep all leading to that startling Death in Mumbai ending but will notver tell me who I am It is printed as the Prologue to this autobiographical novel published after his death two decades later When I read it I assumed that this had always been Agee s intention and that the 240 page novel would continue the adult s Baccarat : La lgende du cristal exploration of that primal uestion Who am I and what has made me so taking the six year old boy sxperience of his father s death in a car accident as the germinal catalytic O Colégio de Todos os Segredos eventTo a certainxtent I was right Much of the novel is seen through the March Violets (Bernie Gunther, eyes of the boy Rufus as he dimly hears his father Jay Follet leaving on a night timerrand then learns that he will never be coming home again But not all of it The second of the book s three parts a vigil as his mother and her family wait anxiously for news takes place at night while the children are asleep in bed And in the rest the narrative voice keeps shifting between adults and children but is never the same voice as the Knoxville prologue The magic first person singular at once the child and his adult self has gone for good The Agee of the novel still has the same insight into the thoughts and worries of children and adults too but now instead of inhabiting them he stands a little way to one side Zoete tranen explaining and analyzing as a mature writer My first reaction was thus one of disappointment it was only when discussing it in book club that I realized how much the novel has in it nonetheless James AgeeWhat I did not realize was that the book is incomplete in some obvious senses and in others not so obvious When Agee died in 1955 he left twenty seuential chapters or less completed running from the day before Jay s death to the day of his funeral some of these include the children some only the adults There were also six other chapters fromarlier years anecdotes focused on the boy Rufus that the author presumably considered including but left no instructions on how to do so it was the Water Music editors decision to insert these as italicized interludes between the main parts of the book They also took the step of adding the Knoxville Summer 1915 piece also in italics as a prelude This way there would at least seem to be a continuous stream of childhood flowing around the main limbs of the book But it doesn t make for narrative or stylistic unity and one wonders how the author himself might have rearranged orven purged the materialThe ditors found the twenty central chapters finished yes in that they supplied a mostly coherent story but that did not mean that Agee might not have strengthened them if he had lived As it is the book has two problems it lacks a clear focus and it suats uneasily on the border between memoir and fiction If you check it against Agee s biography you find it for the most part factually identical the author was indeed known by his middle name Rufus as a child his father Jay came from rural stock and married upwards into a middle class Knoxville family he had the same jobs lived at the same address sired children of the same ages and so on The only factual details that are changed seem to be the family surname and the given names of Agee s mother and sister What makes it a novel is that the author is free to imagine dialogue he hadn t heard and the inner thoughts of his adult characters as well as brilliantly his own What sabotages it as a novel however is that the reader never knows whether something is included because the author needed just that thing at that time or merely because it happened in real life is the reader being led or left to wanderOne key xample of that is the opening chapter of Part II in which the mother Mary in the novel receives a phone call telling her of Jay s accident Whether from tact or Student Research Projects in Calculus embarrassment the caller does not say So Mary has to wait until her brother drives out there and returns to find out that he is actually dead For a novelist it is a perfect set up the long period of suspense the children safely out of the picture the family uietly assembling And Agee seeds this Petri dish withlements that are mostly new the social differences between the two families a slight strangement between Mary and her father and above all Mary s fervent piety which her father calls a stinking morass of churchiness There is an artifice about the ntire seuence which would be marvelous as a play or a film if only I could be sure that Agee had indeed constructed it with authorial intent rather than just going with the flow as it really happened As it is it makes such a break from the tone of the rest that it seems to throw the whole childhood theme out of the windowWhat I now suspect has happened is that in preparing the novel Agee had not one inuiry in mind but two One was to remember where he came from and work out what he had become taking his father s death as the formative Love for Imperfect Things event But his other aim I think is to solve the mystery of what had become of his mother who changed from a normal loving parent into some kind of paragon of piety In real life after Laura Agee married an Anglo Catholic priest and moved to Maine the adolescent author could hardly bear to visit Might this change not also bexplained by the same catalytic A Heart of Stone event her husband s death Two inuiries crammed into one book that does not uite hold together Given time and by shaping it decisively as fiction might Agee not have made it cohereThere is one seuence in Part III when the two threads do really come together as an Anglo Catholic clergyman the odious Father Jackson arrives to officiate and his sanctimonious arrogance immediately sets the children ondge Hear they are listening to him pontificate through their mother s bedroom door The man s voice rang very strongly with the knowledge that it was right and that no other voice could be uite as right it seemed to say unpleasant things as if it felt they were kind things to say or again as if it did not care whether or not they were kind because in any case they were right I have mentioned problems now let me Taking Instruction (Taboo, end with what A Death in the Family gets gloriously right thenvironment of warmth in which all this takes place The classic American novel re published for the 100th anniversary of James Agee's birthPublished in 1957 two years after its author's death at the age of forty five A Death in the Family remains a near perfect work

Ially upward And my father never used corporal punishment again but uietly and assiduously attempted to make MORE OF A MAN out of me for which grace I now thank GodI narrowly missed being blighted by rue as happens to so many who got caught up in darknessNow it s funny for I would later take this Rising Above that I chose to be a way of transcendence It would indeed help me then through Many Many of life s stormsBut you know that very feeling of straitening transcendence is what gives so many woebegone Christians that unholy holier than thou attitude which the world detests We are sadly mistaken if we inwardly claim a position of moral superiority over our Language and Linguistics earthy peers That s only ourgo acting out its Darwinistic fantasies You know a would be patient one day approached Sigmund Freud for a cure to his manic hysteria Freud said Well I can t CURE you but I CAN turn your hysteria into something like ordinary human misery So I can dig it guys And we ll try to lay offFor now nearly sixty years fast forward from that distant prepubescent time I know that any and all transcendence is a myth Life s always gonna be a tough slog for ALL of us no matter HOW you slice itBut we CAN live it healthily and ENJOY living on the surface again with a modicum of humilityIn the sunlightOur thoughts of transcendence aren t USBut you know what Divertimento elseIf we ve been straitened like this we ve been strengthened at any stage of our lifeAnd Ready for anything Including the Fresh Air of EternityIt was a watershed moment that became my touchstone in a suddenly very relative worldFor that night the shadow of the Hegelian Absolute fell upon meThe Shadow of God An oldie 1938 but a goodie This book is a poster child for truth in advertising it is precisely what its title tells us A young husband and father is taken in the prime of life As the family gathers in the house before the funeral we hearvery comforting word Love Is a Fairy Tale every sob We hear the prayers with the priest we pick up the scent of flowers we hear thempty condolences A grief stricken toddler daughter is hiding under the bed They start loading the hearse In between these scenes we learn of the family suabbles a Catholic woman in Tennessee who struggled to gain the acceptance of her husband s non Catholic family We get glimpses of that family the deaf mother in law the alcoholic younger brother the spinster aunt It s also a discussion of God interpreted by the young boy who has lost his father He tries to interpret things through the contradictory and confusing things he hears from adults is He out there or not Most of the story is told through the yes of this young boyThe work is set in 1915 so we have hand crank cars and horses I read this book because the blurb said people talk about this book years after they have read it I think that s a fair statement and good testimony for this bookAlthough Agee s most famous work is probably Let Us Now Praise Famous Men he won the 1958 Pulitzer posthumously for A Death Agee led a typical Great Author life he was a chain smoking alcoholic who died at age 45 from a heart attack in a taxi on his way to a doctor s appointment He had multiple children with multiple spousesPhoto of Agee aged 28 from Wikipedia Revised 342017 Do you want to hear a joke Too bad I just read James Agee s A Death in the Family and it s so damn depressing that all I want to do is sit in a dark closet and tremble with xistential angst This is the kind of novel that makes me want to weep into my whiskey but that would only tighten the spiral of depression If you re going to take anything while reading this book it should certainly be cocaineDo not take cocaine while reading this book Or probably any other book The best way to describe the deep melancholy here is to take the first ten minutes of Up multiply that by ten million and then have a soccer player kick you in the groin It feels like that Death is pervasive here Even this novel s genesis is shrouded by the long sleep Agee was just 45 when he died of a sudden heart attack A Death in the Family was not yet complete The ditor David McDowell took the rough manuscript shaped it into a piece of fiction and published it to great acclaim and a Pulitzer Prize in 1958 This is important to mention because there is some controversy over the finished product The version of A Death in the Family that I read is the Pulitzer winning McDowell produced work A University of Tennessee professor named Michael Lofaro published a Restored Author s Text in 2007 Lofaro vidently reconstructed his authentic version by removing the McDowell opening a sort of prologue titled Knoxville 1915 that was actually a previously published Agee story putting the book back into pure chronological order rather than McDowell s interspersed flashbacks and adding chapters that McDowell removedMcDowell claimed that he hewed to Agee s original manuscript with a few minor Bangkok Wakes to Rain exceptions He admittedly added the Knoxville 1915 seuence as an opening though it was not originally part of A Death in the Family He also took several seuences that lay outside the manuscript s timeline and placed them rather haphazardly into the main timeline These are the flashbacks that Lofaro dislikes so much In the McDowell text these flashbacks are set off in italics and are written in such a different style hallucinatory stream of conscious that they might as well have beenxcised completely I m not too interested in the inside literary baseball All I know is the version I read is the one that s come to us as an American classic That s The Right Sort of Man (Sparks Bainbridge Mystery enough for me Agee s book wouldn t be the first gem that s been polished to greatness by a talentedditor In short I don t care how much McDowell mucked around with the manuscript whatever he did worked Assuming his intent was to place me into a grand funk Anyway back to the sad stuff As the title promises this is a tightly focused aside from the flashbacks semi autobiographical tale centered on the Follett family and the death of its paterfamilias Jay Follett The story spans only a few days It begins with Jay alive at home He gets a call from his alcoholic brother warning that their father is at death s so much death door He rushes to be at his father s side and on the return trip is killed in a single car accident Agee Darkmere explores the loss of Jay through his wife Mary heavily reliant on her faith his son and Agee surrogate Rufus and daughter Catherine There is also Joel and Catherine Lynch Mary s mother and father the father a deftly drawn skeptic and Mary s Aunt Hannah a pragmaticmotional support Even peripheral characters like Jay s brother Ralph are given wonderfully humanizing touches which is testament to Agee s ability to write skillfully but Et si la maladie n'tait pas un hasard ? efficiently the McDowell version is just 310 pages Agee s prose is beautifully simple with thexception of the overwritten and under punctuated italicized seuences and perceptive For Den of Shadows (Gamblers Den examplearly on there is this marvelous little scene where Mary cooks Jay breakfast shortly before his death Agee notes such tiny intimate details that I had the subtly uncomfortable feeling I was spying on these two characters Much of the book is like this There are no complex set pieces There are no Scraps Of The Untainted Sky emotional fireworks There are also no literal fireworks for you firework fans out there This is a novel of small insights and observations About death in case I haven t made that abundantly clearWhen fiction deals with grief it usually does so in the way that fiction deals withverything formulaically Novels have certain rules There are character arcs There is rising action a climax and falling action When books or movies deal with death they usually follow a survivor who travels a cathartic road to redemption That does not happen here There is no plot to speak of only a series of The Eric Carle Gift Set events occurring one after another over the course of a couple days Once again the italicized flashbacks notwithstanding If you haven t picked up on this yet I m not a fan There is no grand moment when Mary or Rufus comes to some d tente with death and realizes that they re going to be okay There is only loss and grief and the way the world stands suffocatingly still in its wake Built into the narrative is a dialectic of faith verses reason Mary is the believer She immediately turns to prayer and to God as a source of the strength she needs tondure Her father Joel is the secular humanist who comes to her with pragmatic and practical advice You re going to need Huguenot Prophecy and Clandestine Worship in the Eighteenth Century every ounce of common sense you ve got he said Just spunk won t benough you ve got to have gumption You ve got to bear it in mind that nobody that Fashion Design Course ever lived is specially privileged the axe can fall at any moment on any neck without any warning or any regard for justice You ve got to keep your mind off pitying your own rotten luck and setting up any kind of howl about it You ve got to remember that things as bad as this and a hell of a lot worse have happened to millions of people before and that they ve come through it and that you will too You ll bear it because there isn t any choicexcept to go to piecesAgee doesn t take a strong position on this age old argument Instead his position seems to be that the universe is so large and cold and indifferent that the presence of God doesn t Aeralis (The Frost Chronicles, even matter That death is so powerful that we might as well be adrift in anmpty cosmos Like I said this isn t the cheeriest of books It was in fact the most troubling thing I read this Halloween season A Death in the Family is a classic that I really wouldn t recommend to anyone This doesn t make me an ostrich willfully blind to inevitability De. That destroys not only a life but also the domestic happiness and contentment of a young family A novel of great courage lyric force and powerful motion A Death in the Family is a masterpiece of American literature.

He seven short chapters in Part I seem designed as a gallery of family vignettes Jay and Rufus Mary and Jay Jay s thoughts Mary s thoughts Rufus and his sister Caroline Jay and his brother Rufus and his delightfully surprising great aunt Hannah And they continue into the other two parts adding Mary s brother her parents and my favorite character in the novel their old family friend Walter As a hymn to family love and social kindness Agee s novel is a triumph And very now and then he returns to the characteristic voice of the Knoxville piece showing that Cincinnati and Other Plays even tragedy takes place in theveryday rightness of ordinary life as in this description of the family after the funeral I find it strangely consoling But much as she had hurried all that she did after she got back to her chair was to sit with her hands in her lap and stare straight ahead of her through her heavy lenses and all that they could do was to sit uietly too and look at the clean lace curtains at the window and at the magnolia trees and the locust tree in the yard and at the wall of the next house and at a heavy robin which fed along the lawn until he flew away and at the people who now and then moved past along the sunny sidewalk and at the buggies and automobiles which now and then moved along the sunny street They felt mysteriously immaculate strange and careful in their clean clothes and it seemed as if the house were in shadow and were walking on tiptoe in the middle of an Speak Out! easy sunny world A rocking chair betrayed reiterate strain as of a defective lung like a single note from a stupendous jews harp the chain of a porch swing twanged James Agee A Death in the Family Emotionally this unfinished autobiographical novel felt a bit like David Foster Wallace s last unfinished novel The Pale King But it also felt a bit like Bradbury s Dandelion Wine It was beautiful and sad It had no answers Not about religion Not about God Not about family It made me cry retreading my ownxperiences with losing my brother a decade ago It is strange too to realize you are the same age the author is 45 when the author died Mortality is a bitchSome of the greatness of the book is due IMHO to its unfinished nature It becomes a bit impressionistic painted with scenes and I Like You the Best emotions that are a bit disjointed in time and space There is also an almost rightness that such a great and it is great novel like it s author was silencedarly The novel and the author s book AND the author s life all become soft fugues of The collectors encyclopedia of antique marbles each other So I can point to this book as something that resonates with me because of the shared humanity of loss andndurance and family but it is ALSO just simply beautiful Yes I m not sure if it ultimately matters that we know Mahler s 5th is about death or whether it is beautiful independent of that knowledge I m just not sure Can we really appreciate life without that shadow of that sword that haunts all of us being and intrigral part of the fabric of our stories our art our belief our families and our lives Published after the death of the author A Death in the Family won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958 Classics have become classics for a reason Unfortunately that fact provides no guarantee that The Philosophy of Giambattista Vico every reader is going to love a given masterpiece Sadly this is going to be the case here My rating is not a reflection of the uality of the writing it is based solely on personal preferenceVery fine writing captured the devastating grief of the new widow the confusion of her two small children and the awkwardness and helplessness of friends and family that invariably follows in the wake of a death Too heavy on the religious aspects for my tas When I told Brendan that I d finished A Death in the Family he asked me how it made me feel Not What did you think of the book but How did it make you feel I felt those hideous unspeakablemotions that arise when contemplating the death of a loved one I felt the suffocating sorrow knowing the worst was yet to come for the characters after the ceremonies Lone Star Standoff end and friends and family slip away to return to their lives you are left alone and the shock wears away to leave you hopeless and bereft And yet I felt also the solid hope that those left behind can pick up the remnants of their lives and move on that healing will come What I treasured about this novel is its simplicity and purity There is no plot in a traditional sense no build up ofvents culminating in a conclusion only a story as real and old as time Although Agee died before the book s completion and its contents were pieced together I didn t feel anything was left unwritten There was a completeness to the characters Punishment Of The Cheating Wife experiences the narrativending just as Mary s life without Jay was really beginning The details left a profound impression as well The fixation on the manner and details of Jay s death was so natural we are wired to sort out and categorize More Punishment For His Cheating Wife events in our attempt to understand and control Mary smbarrassment over wishing Aunt Hannah to stay with her rather than her own mother acknowledged that shouting at her half deaf mom would have turned grief into a farce the discussion about hot toddies versus whiskey neat the smell of Mary s breath as she Decision explained Jay s death to his children so many mundanevents take on a surreal glow in the light of tragedy Agee fit as naturally into the minds of young Rufus and his little sister as those of the adults Rufus s The View from Alameda Island experience at the hands of stupid and cruel children and the pleasure he takes as his status rises in the glamour of his father s accident little Catherine s inability to grasp th You May Ask YourselfAm I Right Am I WrongSame as itver was same as it When Fox Is a Thousand ever was And you may ask yourself Do I Want to Feel the Loss of a fictional Close Family MemberAnd you may tell yourself Might Help Me through Grieving Letting the days go by let the water hold me down Once in a Lifetime Talking HeadsSet primarily inast Tennessee A Death in the Family won the 1958 Pulitzer Prize for Lit This book is among a handful that I could not finish reading after realizing where the novel was headed saying nope life s too damn short I cannot volunteer myself to suffer through this 100 Innovations of the Industrial Revolution experience Specifically I chose abandonment after asking why I must read a book toxperience a tragic Taken The Anthology event death of a man who was a father a husband a brother a son to surviving family members and its aftermath grieving so painful tondure in reality In all likelihood you ve already lost someone close and if you re blessed Schematic Design enough to live decades longer you will grieve the loss of a loved one at least a few times in your lifeI recall the painful ordeal of losing my mom suddenly to heart failure 4 years ago While I appreciate the literary uality of this novel I ve concluded that life is just too short and my reading time too limited to spend hours vicariously living through such intimate agony and sadness that pervade this novelThat said there may well come a time in my life that I will decide to read this book and that I will find it a salvation in allowing me to face my painmptiness grief and anger and help me to move forward Another true value and harsh splendour of good literature is that it s one of the few places in life where loneliness is countenanced stared down transfigured treated David Foster Wallace It also serves as a marker along life s path for 1 the me who could not now finish this book and 2 the me perhaps in tentwenty years who could not do without it Until my GR friend Roger recently published his review of this book I had forgotten I read it many years ago It used to sit in a corner of my office desk in 1973 a few months after my graduationThe The Second Sister experience of that office like reading Agee s short and remarkable book was filled with my attempts to find my youth in the wasteland of the spirit which is the modern workplace But I could find neither a respite from my ragged dreams of adulthood nor the fulfillment of my magical childhood visions initherFor after the initial rhapsodic dreams of the novel or of childhood the wasteland reigns And day turns to night And with the workplace I Perfect Match (Girl Talk, entered Nightworld too Once you wake up there is no turning back And it had all begun a little over ten yearsarlierI was about to turn thirteen My biological makeup was changing and a dimension of stress was being added to my prepubescent chemistry One morning before my parents and siblings awoke I drowsily traced the outlines of female actresses from the newspaper onto tracing paper in the predawn hours I had no clue why I was doing it I only knew it was somehow being demanded of meA few nights later the unexplained urges came at night Again I started resisting something which was apparently reuired But then I started thinking rashly Without warning my thought was interrupted by my father s voice from the living room Sounds like you can t sleep Can I bring you a glass of water I was mortified And refused his kind offer obviously In the past a voice from the main room meant Punishment My head was suddenly filled with self directed vicarious angerReduced to shocked and Curzon embarrassed silence I made a vow then and there to fight this Thing whatever it was And thereupon was struck blind to folks spectrum of signs and signalsAnd thereafter I always tried to do good and was just as crestfallen and beaten up by my better judgment as I was at that moment whenever I failedSo after my Dad went back to his TV set after calling out to me I felt strangely straitened Straitened like someone yesxactly like the person who has chosen the strait and narrow path for his OWNAnd my life changed It veered tangent. F art an autobiographical novel that contains one of the most AHS Encyclopedia of Plants and Flowers evocative depictions of loss and griefver written As Jay Follet hurries back to his home in Knoxville Tennessee he is killed in a car accident a tragedy.

An American author journalist poet screenwriter and film critic In the 1940s he was one of the most influential film critics in the US His autobiographical novel A Death in the Family 1957 won the author a posthumous Pulitzer Prize LifeAgee was born in Knoxville Tennessee at Highland Avenue and 15th Street renamed James Agee Street in 1999 to Hugh James Agee and Laura Whitman Tyler