Title: A Death in the Family
Author: James Agee
Publication: McDowell, Obolensky 1957
Rating: 5 stars
The title of this post may sound ominous and a little morbid; however, itis the title of James Agee’s posthumous novel A Death in the Family.
It’s a very short novel. I think I read it over a weekend. As you can infer by the title, it’s about a family that experiences a traumatic loss. The editors had a lot of extra material that they didn’t know how to fit into the linear story; thus, they have inserted these extras every other chapter as vignettes, which give the reader a deeper insight into the life of the person who died. The omniscient narrative is most interesting when told from the children’s point of view.
Agee artfully crafts the child characters. They way the adults speak to the children and how the children then process that information is something that Agee masters in this novel. They ask all of the questions that adults tend to internalize or try to ignore. The little boy seems fascinated by death, which reminds me a of a short story by Jamaica Kincaid–later incorporated into her novel Annie John.
Though it’s a sad story, the way Agee weaves psychology of death, nuances of social and familial relationships, conflicts of religious belief and practice, and the difference in cognition of children versus adults, is beautiful and absolutely fascinating.
I give it an A+. It was a great book to follow Gone with the Wind!