“A Death in the Family” by James Agee

Dana Thompson

Image courtesy of Penguin Group (USA)

In looking at the two reviews I have thus far posted, I realized I might be giving the impression that I only read fluff novels. Yes, even the story about German Occupation in World War Two had a goodly amount of light romance and downright cutesiness. So I decided to delve into my list of books that I’m not ashamed to have read just to prove that I actually have decent taste.

I originally chose to read “A Death in the Family” because it was on a list of 101 Books to Read Before College (of which I have read about twelve to date) and I liked its cover. Yeah, you read that right. I LIKED. ITS COVER. Superficiality is highly underrated. But the wagon with the missing wheel just seemed so nostalgic. Okay, yes, I know, the title to this book doesn’t exactly speak of the good ol’ times, but the novel itself definitely describes a time in which the man is the main breadwinner, the leader, the head of the house. What happens when the head is cut off? This is explored in this semi-autobiographical novel (what does that mean, you ask? It means that this happened to the author but he wants to tell the story without being hampered by precise truth) by James Agee, whose last name I find impossible to pronounce.

Told from varying perspectives at different times, “A Death in the Family” centers on Bruno, a young boy whose father goes off early one morning to see his own father in the hospital. His return journey proves to be disastrous, and its effects are documented in the pain of his family as they try to come to terms with it. The contrast of Bruno’s mother’s staunch Christianity with his grandfather’s similarly staunch atheism definitely provides some food for thought, but to me it’s really the emotion of this book that made me put it up here. I knew, and you know, what happens in the end. The dad dies. This is no secret; it’s the name of the book, for corn’s sake. But it’s the emotion of the woman and children who loved him and their extended family that keeps the reader sucked into the book, thinking not what will they find out? but when and how will they find it out? Along with a good, soul-cleansing study of grief comes the story of an outcast alcoholic brother that really stings. Somehow not a depressing read. Lots of realism, strangely familiar glimpses into childhood, and even a bit of typography. Worth a read!