Thursday, March 21, 2013

Agile Writing from Agee

James Agee's classic novel, A Death in the Family, was published in 1957 and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1958.  The story revolves around the death of the patriarch of a family living in Knoxville, Tennessee in the early 1900s.  The book closely follows each family member and their internal thought process and interactions with each other shortly before and after learning Jay's death, the one major event of the novel.  Other than this, the book focuses on smaller details and intimate moments, between brothers and sisters, mothers and their children, etc.  There are many beautiful passages, including a very moving scene between Jay and his wife Mary, which neither could have known would be the last time they would see each other.  In this scene, they are up in the middle of the night, and Jay freshens the covers so that Mary will have a warm bed to return to after seeing Jay off. 

Here are a few of my other favorite passages:

"I need never fear: nor ever shall I lack for loving-kindness."
"Rufus felt his father's hand settle, without groping or clumsiness, on the top of his bear head; it took his forehead and smoothed it, and pushed the hair backward from his forehead, and held the back of his head while Rufus pressed his head backward against the firm hand..."
"I know it's just unmitigated tommyrot to try to say a word about it." 
"He put his hand around her arm and felt how little it was.  He could feel a vein beating against the bone, just below her armpit."

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