A Death in the Family by James Agee

113091In the summer of 1915, Jay Follet leaves home to visit his father who he is told by his brother is dying. However, on arriving he finds the opposite to be true, and as Jay is on his way  home later that evening, he gets in a car accident and dies, leaving his wife Mary and their two kids Rufus and Catherine to cope with his passing.

My favorite aspect of this book was the writing. I think James Agee has a real way with words and although I was put off by the minimal paragraph breaks in some sections of the book (giant paragraphs of text are not aesthetically pleasing to me), he made up for it with his dialogue which was captivating and realistic.

Beyond that, though, I was somewhat disappointed in A Death in the Family. I felt like as a reader you are not welcome to step into the story, but can only view it from the outside. There are several parts where I wish I could’ve known more of a backstory to what the family was talking about, but none was provided so I felt left out. And maybe that’s how Agee wanted the reader to feel, which is similar to how the rest of the family felt after experiencing death: separated and alone.

I also felt the synopsis provided on the back of the book told the meaty part of the story. The part of the father dying happens right in the beginning and the rest is mostly of the family sitting around, talking about what happened and how to handle the situation, which was slightly interesting because it shows how tragedies were handled in the early 1900s. The reader is also allowed a glimpse into past memories of family members, and I feel that did add to the book, but I still wish there was a little more action to draw the reader in.

Finally, I did not feel a real connection to any of the characters. I felt Agee had a tendency of dropping random side characters into the story without fully explaining who they were or why they were there, which made the book feel slightly disjointed. I did like reading about the children the most, so I was glad that Part 3 was focused on them, but I had a hard time figuring out how old they were. I know Rufus was old enough to go to school, but he still seemed like a child, while Catherine was young enough to still be in a crib, but she seemed to have a good handle on language that I kept picturing her much older than she probably was. I think what I liked most about them though was the innocence they represented and, although they did not fully understand what was going on, there were adults who were willing to bring them into the situation and try to help them understand: it was their father, afterall.

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