LITERATURE: A Death in the Family

Just started on this today but it’s amazing how quickly I’m learning to switch worlds.  From the unknown and odd Flatland, or Sandoval’s alluring parallelism, I’m back to a post-war America where family is stable–no mother would dream of leaving her child in the woods here. 

Realizing that this novel by James Agee was published posthumously and also awarded the Pulitzer Prize, I’m caught up in the language that brings me back to the world of poetics.  The prologue, full of imagery, is long but sets the tone of the times and the story.

But the men by now, one by one, have silenced their hoses and drained and coiled them.  Now only two, and now only one, is left, and you see only ghostlike shirt with the sleeve garters, and sober mystery of his mild face like the lifted face of large cattle enquiring of your presence in a pitchdark pool of meadow; and now he too is gone; and it has become that time of evening when people sit on their porches, rocking gently and talking gently and watching the street and the standing up into their sphere of possession of the trees, of birds hung havens, hangars.  People go by; things go by.  (p. 13)

Agee creates a world of mothers, fathers, children, all placed within a safe neighborhood of well kept houses and hearty meals made by aproned women in sparkling clean kitchens.  It is inviting to the reader and one where we dredge up our own memories to relate.  Oddly, though I remember our large kitchen in the apartment upstairs in my grandfather’s house, and the red tiles on the floor, the rocker in the corner where my dad read us Golden Book stories while we laid our head on his chest; I don’t remember the table.

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2 Responses to LITERATURE: A Death in the Family

  1. Lisa Kenney says:

    I love prose like this. I need to make a special note about this book.

  2. susan says:

    While the prologue is more fanciful than the story, Agee continues with the imagery and dramatic setting that I would strongly recommend to anyone who has a love of language. Yes, Lisa, you’d love it.

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