what i’m reading: james agee’s death in the family

29 07 2009
A Death in the Family, by James Agee

A Death in the Family, by James Agee

The Pulitzer prize winning final novel from James Agee reads slowly, but only for the simple artistry of his words. He writes like I think, which can be obnoxious, but will floor you with the emotion detailed in the posthumously published classic.

Page 82:

I hear my father; I need never fear.

I hear my mother; I shall never be lonely, or want for love.

When I am hungry it is they who provide for me; when I am in dismay, it is they who fill me with comfort.

When I am astonished or bewildered, it is they who make the weak ground firm beneath my soul: it is in them that I put my trust.

When I am sick it is they who send for the doctor; when I am well and happy, it is in their eyes that I know best that I am loved; and it is towards the shining of their smiles that I lift up my heart and in their laughter that I know my best delight.

I hear my father and my mother and they are my giants, my king and queen, beside whom there are no others so wise or worthy or honorable or brave or beautiful in this world.

I need never fear: n or shall I lack for loving-kindness.

Page 149:

“I know it’s unmitigated tommyrot to try to say a word about it. To say nothing of brass. All I want is to warn you that a lot worse is yet to come than you can imagine yet, so for God’s sake brace yourself for it and try to hold yourself together.” He said, with sudden eagerness. “It’s a kind of test, Mary, and it’s the only kind that amounts to anything. When something rotten like this happens. Then you have your choice. You start to really be alive , or you start to die. That’s all.” Watching her eyes, he felt fear for her and said, “I imagine you’re thinking about your religion.”

My copy runs 318 pages, and I am enthralled though I purchased the book years ago and failed to finish the first go, then.




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