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A Death in the Family
by James Agee

Book Description: Forty years after its original publication, James Agee's last novel seems, more than ever, an American classic. For in his lyrical, sorrowful account of a man's death and its impact on his family, Agee painstakingly created a small world of domestic happiness and then showed how quickly and casually it could be destroyed.

On a sultry summer night in 1915, Jay Follet leaves his house in Knoxville, Tennessee, to tend to his father, whom he believes is dying. The summons turns out to be a false alarm, but on his way back to his family, Jay has a car accident and is killed instantly. Dancing back and forth in time and braiding the viewpoints of Jay's wife, brother, and young son, Rufus, Agee creates an overwhelmingly powerful novel of innocence, tenderness, and loss that should be read aloud for the sheer music of its prose.

"An utterly individual and original book...one of the most deeply worked out expressions of human feeling that I have ever read."--Alfred Kazin, New York Times Book Review

"It is, in the full sense, poetry....The language of the book, at once luminous and discreet...remains in the mind."--New Republic

"People I know who read A Death in the Family forty years ago still talk about it. So do I. It is a great book, and I'm happy to see it done anew."--Andre Dubus, author of Dancing After Hours and Meditations From A Moveable Chair








Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (1 of 11), Read 24 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Friday, December 01, 2000 08:03 PM Today marks the official start of the discussion of A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. If anyone would like to open up the discussion, please go right ahead. This is a beautifully written book. I read it several years ago, but it hit me pretty hard because it was not long after the death of my parents. For that reason, I've put off reading it again. I did stop by the library today and picked up a copy. Ann
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (2 of 11), Read 23 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Friday, December 01, 2000 09:12 PM This is indeed a wonderful piece of work. The characters are real, dealing with inexplicable tragedy in a lifelike manner without literary posing or declamation. I'm not surprised that the main story is based on Agee's own life; it would simply boggle my mind if an author could imagine these simple details without having a family history to draw upon. I will certainly never think of "O Little Town of Bethlehem" in the same light again. That was a "WOW!" scene for me. David, also reminded of Eliot Rosewater's mantra: "God damn it, you've got to be kind."
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (3 of 11), Read 25 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Friday, December 01, 2000 09:21 PM I read this some years ago, and remember that it made a great impression on me. I'm planning on reading it again, but I'm still too knocked out with lingering flu and a middle ear infection to even look for my copy. I will do it soon, tho, and I want to encourage everybody to read this. It's a keeper. Ruth
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (4 of 11), Read 25 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net) Date: Saturday, December 02, 2000 06:51 AM I'm a little over half-way through. Got in bed last night at eight, and put it down at 10:30. I just could not stop reading. So many of the scenes resonated so deeply within me, that it was hard to keep reading because I was tearing up. Simple things, like that section before Part II that recalled life as a baby in a crib. I swear, he stole that part right out of my life. My earliest memory is of being in a crib, not being able to sleep, parents with friends in the next room and being so lonesome that I cried. The tunes that the father (Jay) sang I could hear in my head. The book is so personal and real and is making me realize how much I am totally enmeshed within this human race. Sherry
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (5 of 11), Read 25 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Saturday, December 02, 2000 09:20 AM David, tell me about Agee's personal association with this material. I didn't know anything about that, but suspected that there must have been some personal tie-in. He just got it too right. In addition, the writing in this book practically sings. It's as much about living as it is about death. This particular passage from the mind of the father made me put down the book and simply think: How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves. So far, so much between, you can never go home again. You can go home, it's good to go home, but you never really get all the way home again in your life. And what's it all for? All I tried to be, all I ever wanted and went away for, what's it all for? Just one way, you do get back home. You have a boy or a girl of your own and now and then you remember, and you know how they feel, and it's almost the same as if you were your own self again, as young as you could remember. But, on the obvious issue of death, I think part of Agee's genius is his ability to catch all of the realities associated with death. Rufus' scene with the boys telling them that his father had died and wishing that he could go to school that day because he knew he would get a lot of attention was absolutely outstanding. Also, his description of seeing his father in a casket was almost eerily accurate. My mother died when I was 11 and I felt like I was back in that scene with someone infinitely better with words that I am giving them to me. But, mixed in with that is the spiritual reaction, their sense that the father had come back to worry about them had no sense of the "hokey", but seemed real and possible. Looking at the experience through the variations in religious faith in that room was fascinating as well. What a book! My instinctive reaction is to thank the nominator profusely. Also, to those who haven't read it, please don't avoid it because the subject is death. The cliche that death is a part of life has never been more true than in this book. I practically flew through it and I'm definitely one of the slower readers here. Barb
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (6 of 11), Read 25 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: David Moody (davidmoody@prodigy.net) Date: Saturday, December 02, 2000 11:04 AM Barbara: Agee's father was also killed in an auto accident in circumstances resembling those that occur in . And, just to make the identification complete, Agee's middle name was Rufus. Here's some more information: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/ihas/poet/agee.html David
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (7 of 11), Read 19 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Saturday, December 02, 2000 07:00 PM Thanks for that address, David. I didn't realize that Agee was a published poet as well. I should have; his prose is filled with such beautiful images. I have about 50 pages reread. Parts of it are sad, but Barb is right in pointing out that this book is just as much about life as death. Six year old Rufus is wonderful. Agee catches the innocence and wisdom of childhood perfectly. I really enjoyed the religious discussion he had with his mother. Many would think Rufus is the voice of reason in this dialog. Here's a sample. Rufus is the first voice. His little sister Catherine chimes in towards the end. "Why does God let us do bad things?" "Because He wants us to make up our own minds." "Even to do bad things, right under His nose?" "He doesn't want us to do bad things, but to know good from bad and be good of our own free choice." "Why?" "Because He loves us and wants us to love Him, but if He just made us be good, we couldn't really love Him enough. You can't love to do what you are made to do, and you couldn't love God if He made you." "But if God can do anything, why can't he do that?" "Because He doesn't want to," their mother said, rather impatiently. "Why doesn't He want to?" Rufus said. It would be so much easier for Him." "God --doesn't believe--in--the--easy way," she said, with a certain triumph, spacing the words and giving them full emphasis. "Not for us, not for anything or anybody, not even for Himself. God wants us to come to him, to find Him the best we can." "Like hide-and seek," said Catherine. "What was that?" their mother asked rather anxiously. "Like hide..." "Aw, it isn't a bit like hide-and-seek, is it, Mama?" Rufus cut in. "Hidenseek's just a game. God doesn't fool around playing games, does He, Mama! Does He! Does He!" Oh this brings back such fond memories of my own discussions with the nuns when I was little. :) We must have driven them crazy. Ann
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (8 of 11), Read 21 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Barbara Moors (bar647@aol.com) Date: Sunday, December 03, 2000 08:13 AM Wonderful excerpt, Ann. Organized religion is pretty much an evil in this story, isn't it? When you think about the story again with the end in mind, including the priest, each reference to God takes on new significance. The mother's feelings the night of his death, when they all sense that he has come back to worry about them, seemed much more accepting. After the priest appears, it all seems to turn into a nightmare. Should I put SPOILER ALERT here? I mean, obviously, we all know that the father dies in the end but don't know the particulars until we read them. So consider this an alert. S P O I L E R Did those of you who have finished think that the priest was telling the mother that the father could not go to heaven because he had not accepted religion? I assumed that was the reason for all of the closed door discussions and some of the sounds of vocal protest from Aunt Martha and the mother that the children heard. I also wondered, now that I've read the fascinating background piece that David supplied (thank you, David!) if some of the argument had to do with sending Rufus away to school. Also, I find it interesting that it looks from the bio that Agee's first name was Rufus, that he just used his middle name as his first name. This makes the teasing that Rufus in the book received from the big boys, which sounded awfully accurate, even more significant to me. Changing a family name would be a bit of a repudiation of his father's background, but it also testifies to the pain it gave him. Did anyone else find it surprising that Aunt Martha seemed to change so significantly after the session with the priest? It was very hard for me to understand when she seemed to have so much feeling for the children in the beginning and also seemed to have so much sense. Was this all a result of her discussions with the priest, do you think? Oh, and the scenes with the family reacting to the grandmother's hearing impairment were absolute gems, I thought,...the love and patience on both sides, the little bits of things that she missed, the inevitable humor that she couldn't understand. He presented that whole situation in such loving detail. Barb
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (9 of 11), Read 16 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Sunday, December 03, 2000 04:00 PM James Agee's novel was published posthumously--even placed together by his editor David McDowell. According to the LSU published text The Literary South: During his lifetime James Rufus Agee was considered to be a writer of great talent and enormous promise who had never been able to focus his abilities long enough to produce a fully realized work of literary art. It was not until two years after his death, when Death in the Family was published, that it became obvious that here was one of the masters of modern Southern literature. Call me selfish--but if I was to attain the mantel of "master of modern Southern literature," I sure as heck would want to be around like Faulkner to flaunt and enjoy it. The article also notes that Agee was working on "autobiographical fiction" and from there the pieces of Death in the Family was placed together. Dan
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (10 of 11), Read 12 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Katie Kleczka (pkleczka@uwm.edu) Date: Sunday, December 03, 2000 06:57 PM This is such a beautifully written novel. It resonates with me personally in many different ways, but mostly because of the suddenness of the death and the young age of the individual who dies. All death involves a loss that is heartbreaking, but the hardest of all to accept in my life have been those individuals who were very young. On a separate note, Agee's writing has a style very much akin to the personal narratives of Truman Capote. I am as touched by Agee's voice as I have always been by Capote's and in particular Truman Capote's vividly autobiographical pieces. Another aspect of this story that I found very compelling was the brother's alcoholism. His insight into the condition is so very personal and KNOWING. Was Agee an alcoholic? Katie "Everything in moderation, EXCEPT for reading."
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (11 of 11), Read 10 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dottie Randall (randallj@ix.netcom.com) Date: Sunday, December 03, 2000 07:49 PM Based on a stage adaptation of this I started to suggest that the priest's long meetings and so forth were tied in some manner to drinking -- perhaps the father was the alcoholic and there was alcohol involved in the accident -- is this WAY off the mark? I have been hiding out until I get my hands on this -- in a week maybe -- but this question is nagging me since the notes on the hush-hush conferring with the priest and the adults. Dottie ID is an oxymoron!
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (1 of 22), Read 41 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: S. Bohinka (bohinka@riconnect.com) Date: Saturday, December 16, 2000 02:38 PM Ann, >>it hit me pretty hard because it was not long after the death of my parents. For that reason, I've put off reading it again. I can understand how that would be very difficult. He seemed to get at the heart of many of the internal and external elements of what it's like to deal with death. David, >>I'm not surprised that the main story is based on Agee's own life; it would simply boggle my mind if an author could imagine these simple details without having a family history to draw upon. Maybe this'll come out in some of the other posts. Thanks for the link. I've also got a book on Agee that I picked up at a sale which has shed some light on this. I personally wished that he had lived to be able to put the book together. I found some of the spots difficult to read because their style contrasted so much with the rest of the book. In my copy the editors 'guesses' were in italics. The parts I had the most trouble with were in the first half of the book, they were beautiful but introspective and flowery in a way the rest of the book wasn't. Sherry, >>it was hard to keep reading because I was tearing up. Simple things Even though this book depressed the hell out of me, I also found it easy and compelling to read. I polished it off in a couple days which is rare for me. The writing flowed and wasn't difficult (in a technical sense) to read, though it was in an emotional sense. Tonight I wanted to get through it so I wouldn't have to read it tomorrow! Barb, >>But, on the obvious issue of death, I think part of Agee's genius is his ability to catch all of the realities associated with death. Rufus' scene with the boys telling them that his father had died and wishing that he could go to school that day because he knew he would get a lot of attention was absolutely outstanding. Also, his description of seeing his father in a casket was almost eerily accurate. I felt this was both an inner example of and an indictment of what our society does with death. Some of what we deem proper. That was most obvious with the kids but it was also obvious when Mary felt she should have her mother stay but realized how difficult it would be with her hearing, etc. >>My mother died when I was 11 and I felt like I was back in that scene with someone infinitely better with words that I am giving them to me. I wondered about that scene. Thanks for sharing that with us. >>But, mixed in with that is the spiritual reaction, their sense that the father had come back to worry about them had no sense of the "hokey", but seemed real and possible. It fit in with the rest of the book. I'm not sure how I feel about it. I suspect it was part of the comfort that the family needed with the abruptness of his departure. >>Also, to those who haven't read it, please don't avoid it because the subject is death. The cliche that death is a part of life has never been more true than in this book. OK. You were the one who made me think that this wouldn't depress me! I honestly didn't see the life-giving stuff as much as the rest of you. Eddie asked me about it and I found my reaction hard to describe. I didn't like or personally identify with Mary, though on another level I felt I could BE Mary---in that Mary was 'everyperson' when it came to dealing with issues of death. Does this make any sense? It was hard to get a sense of the time period of the book for me. I felt like it was perhaps written in the '30s or that was the time it was meant to portray. Perhaps a reflection of Agee's childhood or slightly thereafter? Bo
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (2 of 22), Read 44 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: S. Bohinka (bohinka@riconnect.com) Date: Saturday, December 16, 2000 02:49 PM Barb, >>Organized religion is pretty much an evil in this story, isn't it? I saw it as both a comfort to Mary and an evil at the end when the priest showed up. I think the back-and-forthness showed up throughout (with Hannah having some discomfort with Mary's praying, etc.) >> When you think about the story again with the end in mind, including the priest, each reference to God takes on new significance. Right. Even with her devotion, it didn't help her husband get a 'Proper Christian burial'. >> The mother's feelings the night of his death, when they all sense that he has come back to worry about them, seemed much more accepting. After the priest appears, it all seems to turn into a nightmare. Some of what I read about Agee said that he had a good relationship with a priest who was like a father to him. So this negative view of the priest is a bit of a surprise, unless there's more going on from his life that I haven't read about yet. >>Did those of you who have finished think that the priest was telling the mother that the father could not go to heaven because he had not accepted religion? This came out later at the burial itself, though that part was sorta glossed over. Yeah, I figure the priest was pompously lecturing them about stuff behind closed doors. The way he treated the kids sure made me angry! >>>Oh, and the scenes with the family reacting to the grandmother's hearing impairment were absolute gems, I thought,...the love and patience on both sides, the little bits of things that she missed, the inevitable humor that she couldn't understand. He presented that whole situation in such loving detail. It seemed true to life but it sorta bothered me. Mary wasn't able to get the comfort from her mother that she really needed at that time because of the hearing issue and her mother couldn't be actively involved and help her either. The parents seemed distant and that bothered me as well. My ex-father-in-law has severe hearing loss and though he's a compassionate man, it always made things difficult. So many times we just gave up trying to communicate which is such a shame. Bo
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (3 of 22), Read 46 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Saturday, December 16, 2000 02:59 PM The priest may have prevented Mary from taking comfort in religion, but also remember Mary's father's attitude, that Mary's retreating into the platitudes of religion would prevent her from dealing effectively with life and with her children. Liked your observation that Mary was cut off from her mother because of the hearing loss. Reading your comments on it really hit home, as I've just been diagnozed with hearing loss that most probably be progressive. It really has bummed me out. Ruth
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (4 of 22), Read 49 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: S. Bohinka (bohinka@riconnect.com) Date: Saturday, December 16, 2000 04:38 PM Ruth, >>The priest may have prevented Mary from taking comfort in religion That really wasn't clear to me. I think she did until he showed up but I'm not sure she 'lost her faith'. Did it say? >>but also remember Mary's father's attitude, that Mary's retreating into the platitudes of religion would prevent her from dealing effectively with life and with her children. Do you think this was true? I think she was just dazed and that only time would heal the loss that she felt. She could have retreated into any number of things at that 'numb' time to try to deal. >>Liked your observation that Mary was cut off from her mother because of the hearing loss. Reading your comments on it really hit home, as I've just been diagnosed with hearing loss that most probably be progressive. It really has bummed me out. Ruth, I'm sorry. Awareness that you may not be communicating well with people is really important. Really tough, though. Anything that can 'help' you? I know they're making great strides in this area these days. And, please forgive me for trying to 'fix' it. (One of our horrible tendencies in this culture. And something that always annoys the heck out of me when someone does it to me.) My uncle had macular degeneration. When I suggested to the family that they bring in someone from a blind society to train him how to adapt to his sight loss they treated me like I was out of my mind. He knew for many years that he was losing his sight but none of his family did anything to help him cope with the change that everyone knew he'd eventually have to face. His last few years were sheer misery and I don't think they needed to be that way. Ruth, I don't know what your choices are---but you do have some. After a sufficient grief period, try to be proactive. And, on a totally different note. I sent off the short stories to you yesterday. Hopefully the Christmas mail will get them there quicker than usual---which can be a week. You'd think I lived at the ends of the earth by the way the mail goes out of here. :) Bo
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (5 of 22), Read 53 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: R Bavetta (rbavetta@prodigy.net) Date: Saturday, December 16, 2000 06:11 PM But somewhere in there Mary's father is musing to himself about how he fears Mary will retreat permanently from life into religion. Never fear, if (or more likely when) I need a hearing aid I have no cosmetic silly ideas about wearing one. I will simply buy the very best available, but from what others tell me, the best still ain't good enough. Ruth
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (6 of 22), Read 45 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: S. Bohinka (bohinka@riconnect.com) Date: Sunday, December 17, 2000 07:15 PM Ruth, I guess I must have just seen that as the father's musings. I didn't think it was happening. I'm not sure if we saw enough time period of her life to know if it would happen or not. Beej, >>From these posts, I think this book touches all of us, universally, as we have all experienced the death of a loved one at some point in our lives. My life experience has given me a number of 'losses' and I certainly have lost friends to death. But I haven't lost a parent, sibling or lover to death. I've lost very close friends to other things but it's not quite the same. This book got me thinking about how like/unlike Mary I would be when the time comes. (My parents are in their mid-80s and my mother has been talking to me a lot about death lately.) >>I lost my mother as a child, and because of this, was indecisive as to whether I would participate in this discussion. How old were you? >>As I read of Rufus' experiences, there was, hung over my heart, a feeling of dread for this child..I knew what he would deal with emotionally, and how far-reaching the effects of losing a parent as a child would be for him. (hug) >>This family is dealing with the first stage of grief..disbelief..and what a credit to this wonderful author that he could pen such a deep and moving story, albeit a semi-autobiographical story, covering only the tip of the iceburg of such a tragedy. Well put. I didn't really think of the 'stages of grief' when I was reading it but he did a good job of getting into the nitty-gritty of what that first aspect is like. >>Did anybody else see this book as almost poetic?...Especially in the sections where Rufus reflects on happier times? At times. Much of what I called "the flowery stuff" :) was much harder for me to read. Like the VERY beginning of the book before he got to the narrative. Ruth, >>I'm glad you quoted from that prologue, Beej. It certainly is a beautiful piece of writing. And in many ways it reminded me of Bradbury's Dandelion Wine. Am I the only one? Guess I'm consistent, then, huh? I didn't make the Bradbury connection but I guess that general 'type' of writing is something that I have trouble with. (Understatement of the year.) >>the true message is what leaves the reader in such discomfort. And the true message is....? You mention three things in the following: hate, no reason for death, the way we deal with death isn't helpful. >>the effects of his father's passing lasted, obviously, a lifetime. ADITF begins with description of love, yet ends with description of hate. and I can understand that, I guess I didn't see it quite that strongly. tell me more. >> No, I think Agee's message here is, in fact, that death has no purpose or reason to it. God did not decide to pull a cog pin from a wheel...reach down, pull it out,,in order to take Jay. I'll agree with this. There is no 'higher purpose' to death. Sometimes bad things just happen. I actually find this (the randomness) to have more comfort to it than trying to find some *reason*. The reasons are usually pretty hollow. >>Mary's brother was right. There is more of God in a living butterfly than in all the ritualistic ceremony we create for death. To me, this was Agee's message..to finally say death is simply one of life's meaningless, dirty jokes. I think different things help different people. I think if he'd done the whole service (and maybe even if he didn't) that the Catholic burial helped Mary. The butterfly helped others. People often *say* that they don't want much ceremony around a love one's death. But I think what they're really saying is that they want something *appropriate*--that does some justice to the person they know and love. They don't want *empty* ceremonies. I actually believe that having *some* kind of loving ritual can help with the grief process. I know someone who's mother donated her body to science. They just whisked the body away and she didn't have a chance to 'say goodbye' and because her mother didn't want a funeral, she didn't have that chance to grieve either. The ceremonies are for the people who are left. So often the person who actually makes plans ahead for their death thinks about what they want instead of what those who are left might want. I'm sure you've all been to a funeral where the person doing the service didn't know the person who had died and it seemed like an awful joke. I did the funeral service for my uncle. I'm sure from the relatives that spoke to me afterwards that I was able to capture some of what he contributed to our lives and also to help them through the grief process. I know he wouldn't have wanted us to 'make a fuss' over him. But we needed to have the time and occasion to grieve for him. Bo
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (7 of 22), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: S. Bohinka (bohinka@riconnect.com) Date: Sunday, December 17, 2000 07:28 PM Steve, >>I am well into Part III and just finished reading about Rufus exploring his dead father's morsechair. He sticks his finger in the ashtray. Retrieves it with a smudge of ash on it. Looks at it. Licks it off. It tastes of darkness. That was it! I had to take another break and decided to see whether this book was having the same effect on everyone else that it's having on me. I'm such a weak stick sometimes. Tremendously moving book. A great, great novel. Actually, one of a kind, I think.<<< It certainly had a deep effect on me. And I agree that it's very unique. I am glad I read it, though I'm not sure if this was the best week for me to do so. :) Incidentally, is this a typo for horsehair or what the heck is morsehair? Beej, >>>Toward the end of the book, Rufus thinks of the darkness within the buried coffin. When my mother died, I was distraught over the idea of this darkness, too. Just totally distraught. ( I was 14). What would possess Andrew to say the things he said to this child on that walk at the end of the novel? I found that so disturbing.<<< I think a lot of time people don't realize the effect that what they say in these situations may have on other people, especially kids. Was he so caught up in his own grief that he didn't give it any thought? I don't know. Dale, >> For a long time afterward, I felt as if somebody I actually knew had died. It may be that I haven't lost people as close as some of you have but I've had a strange reaction to the book. A sort of empathetic distance. I was trying to explain this to Eddie and not sure if I got the feeling across or not. I felt the universality of the situation and I felt that someday I could BE Mary but I didn't identify with her now. But it still affected me deeply. Hard to describe, I guess. Steve, >>In fact if someone were to ask me what it's like to be a little boy as I recall it, I would refer that person to this text. So this does encapsulate your experience? Bo
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (8 of 22), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Felix Miller (felix3rd@bellsouth.net) Date: Monday, December 18, 2000 09:03 PM The attitude of this writer towards religion is one of the elements of the book's fascination for me. There are many good points being made about the use of the tension between the mother's rigorous faith and the emotional reaction of the child to the death and dark departure of the father. Agee wrote lyrically of a facet of religion, specifically of the high-Epicopalianism he encountered at St Andrews, in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men: >> I used as a child in the innocence of faith to bring myself out of bed through the cold lucid water of the Cumberland morning and to serve at the altar at earliest lonely Mass, whose words were thrilling brooks of music and whose motions, a grave dance: and there between spread hands the body and the blood of Christ was created among words and lifted before God in a threshing of triplicate bells. >> In the beginning was the Word, as John said, and Agee was its fervent disciple. Greetings from north of the river, Felix Miller ...it's likely my youth will walk/Inside me like a king. -Looking for the Buckhead Boys James Dickey
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (9 of 22), Read 44 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Tuesday, December 19, 2000 11:35 AM Felix: I agree with you. As I mentioned above, let's not neglect Agee's realistic portrayal of the kind atheist (seen in the character of Joel and possibly Andrew) who cannot understand why some people can let their mental faculties get fogged by religious zeal. Dan
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (10 of 22), Read 46 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Tuesday, December 19, 2000 03:27 PM Felix: Amen. What an exquisitely beautiful passage that is. Here's one of my favorites from LET US NOW PRAISE FAMOUS MEN: All over Alabama, the lamps are out. Every leaf drenches the touch; the spider's net is heavy. The roads lie there, with nothing to use them. The fields lie there, with nothing at work in them, neither man nor beast. The plow handles are wet, and the rails and the frogplates and the weeds between the ties: and not even the hurryings and hoarse sorrows of a distant train, on other roads, is heard. The little towns, the county seats, house by house white-painted and elaborately sawn among their heavy and dark-lighted leaves, in the spaced protections of their mineral light they stand so prim, so voided, so undefended upon starlight, that it is inconceivable to despise or to scorn a white man, an owner of land... "So undefended upon starlight..." Gosh, I love that. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (11 of 22), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Tuesday, December 19, 2000 05:25 PM I just got a copy of this from a long waiting list at the library. I started this morning and am very moved and upset by this book. It's so good.
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (12 of 22), Read 55 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Theresa Simpson (theresa.a.simpson@gte.net) Date: Wednesday, December 20, 2000 01:07 AM I read Famous Men in college, and Death in the Family several years ago (in fact, I think Dale and I had a brief discussion at that time). These are both excellent books. I love the way Agee loves and values words; without that style, Famous Men would be a dry polemic. As it is, the artistry carries the message so much farther than it could possibly have traveled otherwise, gives it life. Agee and what's his name, his pal the photographer, were financed by Fortune magazine, of all things, while writing Famous Men. I think FM actually first appeared as a serial in that magazine. Go figure. A journalist revisited the families featured in Famous Men a few years ago; I read the resulting book. It was, in fact, pure journalism, but interesting nevertheless because Famous Men itself was so luminous. Theresa
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (13 of 22), Read 43 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ernest Belden (drernest@pacbell.net) Date: Thursday, December 21, 2000 09:36 PM I am about 2/3 through the Death in the Family and am, like most of the other readers touched. Touched, in this case, may be too superficial a term. Agee understands the way people feel more so than any writer that I remember and he is very detailed, looking at every aspect of happenings and feelings. No question he understands how people are touched by death and catastrophe and what it takes to deal with them. The discussions on religious believe is another outstanding aspect of the book. Most authors take a definite stand one way or another and leave little room for doubts and the process of "seeing the truth" or trying to sort out how they really feel. Another aspect that is touching is Ruffus's dealing with the school kids going home. Ruffus is a bit of an outsider, an introvert and thinkiner when he tries to make sense of the ordinary boys attitudes. He accepts the fact that these boys want to have crude fun at his expense but is puzzled and does not want to join them in their game and outlook. Don't we see the young Agee the observer and seeker in this boy? What puzzled me at the beginning of the book was the father's reluctance in going home. He kept on taking more time the closer he comes to the house. But he and Mary seem to have a loving relationship. Yet prior to their marriage her father hints about future problems in their marriage, yet up to the point where I am now Mary expresses nothing but genuine love for her dead husband. The accident to this point is puzzling and I kept thinking about the question of suicidal impulses as he may once more be reluctant to go home. Yet his love for Rufus is genuine. Ernie
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (14 of 22), Read 44 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ann Davey (davey@tconl.com) Date: Thursday, December 21, 2000 09:50 PM Ernie, There were hints that the father, along with the rest of the males in his family, had a drinking problem. Temporarily at least, it seemed under control, but I think he liked to savor those free minutes after he left the bar and before he returned to his wife. Mary actually wondered if he might have been drinking before the accident, although she immediately suppressed the thought. Mary was also scrupulously religious, which even she saw as a source of future problems. If he had lived, I'm not so sure this marriage could have been saved. Ann
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (15 of 22), Read 44 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Ernest Belden (drernest@pacbell.net) Date: Thursday, December 21, 2000 10:39 PM Ann, Aren't you a bit pessimistic about Jay and Mary's marriage? You could well be right that things would not work out in the end. But think of the time period! During these days divorce was a rare solution. These couple either accepted their differences and went their separate ways within their marriage or the guy just left assumed a different identity and hopped freight trains. But both of them love the children and the extended family may have made some difference. But the temptation of suicide on Jay's part may not be too far fetched. He was going fast enjoying the sensation of speed and the "high" that may have led to suicidal. Well you may asked, what about the broken or missing cotter pin that tighten the steering assembly? Who knows. But reading this book is certainly a most unusual experience evoking all sorts of intense feelings on the part of the reader. I have to admit that I found it in part painful. Some of it struck close to home. As I child I knew what it was like to be an outsider as my interests did not coincide with those of most other kids. But I admired Jay's relationship with his son. My own relationship with my father was not all bad but more problematic, as i was a terrible rebel. Well I wish I were able to write a book just half as touching and sensitive as Agee's. Ernie
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (16 of 22), Read 46 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Dale Short (dshort5005@aol.com) Date: Friday, December 22, 2000 08:30 AM Ernie: I very much enjoyed your comments on A DEATH IN THE FAMILY. I agree; the details in the book are so right and so "real" that it's almost impossible not to take the book personally, viscerally, with all the memories and emotions from our own pasts that it provokes. Truly luminous writing, I think. Hope all is well with you. Please give Pat a hug on my behalf. >>Dale in Ala.
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (17 of 22), Read 47 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Daniel LeBoeuf (dan1066@yahoo.com) Date: Friday, December 22, 2000 10:47 AM I've got my wife reading this one and it is shaking her up worse than me. She noted the "christmas theme" in this novel, a theme I had pretty much missed. Andrew's "Little Town of Bethlehem" commentary, Mary's namesake, and even her husband "Jay," which she says could be "J" as in "Joseph." She stretched it a bit with the fact that Jay's body is laid out in a kind of manger setting and all the star-watching and Mr. Starr-listening Rufus does within the novel. I'm not sure if it was intentional, but my wife wanted to compliment whoever chose this novel for December's reading. Dan
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (18 of 22), Read 51 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: S. Bohinka (bohinka@riconnect.com) Date: Friday, December 22, 2000 06:41 PM Ernie, >>Touched, in this case, may be too superficial a term. Agee understands the way people feel more so than any writer that I remember and he is very detailed, looking at every aspect of happenings and feelings. No question he understands how people are touched by death and catastrophe and what it takes to deal with them. It seemed to me to be a real slice of life. I don't think I realized it until later but the whole book takes place over such a short period of time and like you say we see every detail. In most books this would be horribly boring. In this book, this is where we find the power---in the details. >> The discussions on religious believe is another outstanding aspect of the book. Most authors take a definite stand one way or another and leave little room for doubts and the process of "seeing the truth" or trying to sort out how they really feel. There are a lot of realistic shades of gray here too. And I think that seeing much of it through Rufus' eyes helps too---we see the confusion of the child trying to make sense of all the things that are happening. >>What puzzled me at the beginning of the book was the father's reluctance in going home. There might be some truth to what Ann says about the alcoholism aspect. I'm not sure that it's really clear, though, one way or the other. Perhaps this is a device he used to add to the drama of the calamity that followed. >>The accident to this point is puzzling and I kept thinking about the question of suicidal impulses as he may once more be reluctant to go home. Yet his love for Rufus is genuine. So you think their explanation that the car part 'just fell out' has any credibility? >>Aren't you a bit pessimistic about Jay and Mary's marriage? I agree with you on this one Ernie, I didn't see any real overt signs that things were THAT bad. Dan, >>I've got my wife reading this one and it is shaking her up worse than me. >> She noted the "christmas theme" in this novel, a theme I had pretty much missed. Andrew's "Little Town of Bethlehem" commentary, Mary's namesake, and even her husband "Jay," which she says could be "J" as in "Joseph." She stretched it a bit with the fact that Jay's body is laid out in a kind of manger setting and all the star-watching and Mr. Starr-listening Rufus does within the novel. Or J as in Jesus? Well it all may have been intentional. I didn't really see it either. At least not as a strong theme. There are always lots of threads in a complex novel. And, not to trivialize your wife's comments but I just watched "Die Hard" the other day and saw what someone meant when they mentioned it as a "Christmas Movie". It's there but a bit of a stretch, IMO. I hope you and your wife were able to talk about the book. I can see it as being something that might help people to talk about the subject. Coincidentally, Eddie and I were recently talking about some of what we would want in terms of 'arrangements'. Perhaps reading the book will give me the impetus to actually do some of that stuff "pre-need", as the industry would say. Bo
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (19 of 22), Read 45 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Sunday, December 24, 2000 03:49 PM Well, whoopee sure am glad I am reading this. No, really this is so depressing. I am really loving how it is written. The interior life of these characters is um draining but I think I see where Agee is goins with it, and why. I was very sad at the wifes attitude towards religion and forcing it on her kids and her feeling of going against her husband with this act. It makes me sick actually. I'm not sure I see the marriage as on the rocks or anything, especially back then, but this moral separateness, it is a sad control tripping thing... I love Rufus!!!! I was also interested in some little details like ginseng tea, here I thought that was a 70's craze. Also on the back cover of my library copy is one of the best author photos I've ever seen! He is leaning forwaRD with his cigarette and his fingers all around his smoke. He is not looking at the camera. Very cool.
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (20 of 22), Read 42 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: S. Bohinka (bohinka@riconnect.com) Date: Sunday, December 24, 2000 07:36 PM Candy, I wasn't crazy about the religion in the book but I didn't see the mother forcing it on the kids. Where was that? Bo
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (21 of 22), Read 37 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: Candy Minx (candyminx@hotmail.com) Date: Wednesday, December 27, 2000 12:45 PM Bo, end of chapter four.
Topic: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY (22 of 22), Read 34 times Conf: CLASSICS CORNER From: S. Bohinka (bohinka@riconnect.com) Date: Wednesday, December 27, 2000 03:28 PM Candy, OK, now I see why I didn't see it before. This is a couple sentences about what Mary's THINKING/praying, not her actual ACTIONS. I guess she INTENDS to bring them up as Catholic children and this scene is one that's more about her differences with her husband and how having Catholic children and wife will be a gulf in their relationship. I didn't see anything in the book where she forced them to do any religious thing. She didn't make them pray with her constantly or anything. I'm sure that with her strong intent that in the *future* some of this might happen. I just didn't see any of it actually happening in the book. Bo

 

 

 
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