I think I'm excited by this, despite the mixed reviews, though the last thing in the world I'd ever want to see would be the butchery of one of Faulkner's novels. It would be treasonous, positively treasonous. I'm not sure my delicate sensibilities could survive it.
Did James Franco get the nuances, the ironic humor and sly, southern gothic grotesquery? He's had a hand in literary adaptations before: Ginsberg's Howl and McCarthy's Child of God. But Faulkner? My William Faulkner? That's an awful lot of pressure.
"Franco's "As I Lay Dying" is a respectable attempt to tackle a difficult American novel, famed for its stream of consciousness and multiple, shifting narrators. It captures Franco — who also stars in the film as the troubled character Darl Bundren — as a maturing filmmaker revealing perhaps his most personal work.
"If somebody asked you if you could do any project, it would actually be this one," he says — high praise from someone who's routinely balancing a dozen or more projects."
As I Lay Dying was the first of Faulkner's novels I ever read, back in high school when I was a rather obnoxious literary prig - not that that's changed. The school librarian, who took a real interest in me because I was so shy and awkward - and, of course, bookish - recommended lots of reading to me, including The Small World of Don Camillo, a sweet little gem and Auntie Mame, the off-beat comic minor masterpiece. When I told her I was native to Mississippi her eyes lit up. Less than a minute's perusal later she placed As I Lay Dying in my hands. "It's hilarious," she said.
And she'd never failed me before.
Turned out it was radically different from anything I'd ever read in my 18 years of book gobbling. The novel simultaneously enthralled and horrified me with its cavalier treatment of death, the casual way Cash Bundren crafted his dying mother's coffin directly under her bedroom window a cringe-worthy image. To hear the box you'll soon occupy for all eternity hammered and sawed, just waiting for you to expire, is darkly humorous enough. But it's the journey afterward, the comedy of errors as the family bumps along in a horse-drawn wagon carrying Addie Bundren to her final resting place, that's most priceless.
To the Bundren's chagrin, Mother Nature had felt compelled to drown the earth just previous to their journey to Jefferson, where their mother had asked to be buried alongside her ancestors. Watching the family trundle through a swollen river with a coffin in the back of a wagon, the whole kit and kaboodle nearly washed away, makes for one of the most hilarious scenes in all of American literary history - along with widower Anse's desire to get to Jefferson for his own pressing reason: to buy a new set of false teeth.
Did I mention the intense heat and what that does to a rotting corpse?
You have a masterpiece in your hands, Mr. Franco. Please don't screw it up.