Death in the Family

Agee, James. A Death in the Family. Read by Mark Hammer. New York: Recorded Books, 2000.

Agee, James. A Death in the Family. New York: Penguin Classics, 2008.

Reason read: Father’s Day is in June. This is in honor of what the loss of a father can do to a family. Believe me, I know.

This is the autobiographical story of what happens when the anchor of a family dies unexpectedly. Set in 1915.
The language of Death in the Family is lyrical and breathtaking. Three scenes worth mentioning: Father Jay sets out to visit his dying father after receiving a middle-of-the-night call from his alcoholic brother. His father has suffered another heart attack and this time it’s bad. Jay’s wife, Mary, lovingly makes him a huge breakfast before his trip despite the early hour. He in return remakes the bed for her. Their exchanged goodbyes are tenderhearted and endearing. In a flashback, when their son experiences a nightmare, Agee describes these night visions in words that are nothing short of enthralling. But, the best part is when Jay comes in to console his son, Rufus. This last scene is heartbreaking. Via a telephone call, Mary has been told there has been a serious accident involving her husband and “a man” needs to come. She isn’t told anything more than that. Mary and her aunt wait up, agonizing over every little word exchanged during the short phone call. Mary’s worry bleeds from the pages.

Quote I really liked, “Talking to that fool is like trying to put socks on an octopus” (p 167). I think I will use that one day.

As an aside, Agee quotes a limerick, “Fat Man From Bombay” in A Death in the Family but he doesn’t give credit to Edward Lear. The limerick is from Lear’s Book of Nonsense.

Author fact: Agee died before this could be published. Oddly enough, this was autobiographical and there has been controversy over what Agee was and wasn’t planning to publish.

Book trivia: Agee was awarded a Pulitzer for Death in the Family. I can see why.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust in the chapter called “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1950s” (p 177).



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