Thursday, August 16, 2007

A Death in the Family by James Agee

What a book. I had heard that this was an amazing novel from many dear friends and were they ever right. The writing is impeccable, clean, perfect. Agee evokes the feeling of childhood so well that it just feels real. I was reminded of William Maxwell's They Came Like Swallows (which is also largely autobiographical and about the death of a parent) with its similar themes of childhood, memory, family and loss. And it approaches these themes with a sentimentality that is rarely replicated in contemporary fiction, a reminiscence free of treacle or melodrama. Agee is pitch perfect in every scene, evoking emotion in what is said and unsaid, in what is thought and remembered.

Posthumously published after Agee's death, there are pieces of writing that were folded in after the fact. It certainly hangs together just fine, but I couldn't help but wonder if Agee would have sequenced it differently, or added anything. Like Maxwell's book, this was luminous and heartbreaking. When I turned the last page, I felt a pang of regret that it was finished and that I could not read more about this family.

1 comment:

Marci said...

Hi Misha - just clicked in from the Novel Journey site, where I enjoyed your interview. I'm about to send out some postcards to promo my new novel, One Smooth Stone, which is partly set in Seattle, so you may see it in your mailbox.
PS - you can read about the book on my website -