Books Magazine

My Parental Heart Strings Get Pulled Again

By Robert Bruce @robertbruce76

If it feels like I’ve posted a lot about A Death In The Family, it’s because I have. But if you’re ready to move on, this is my final post about the novel before the review on Tuesday.

James Agee lost his father when he was a child. That experience inspired A Death In The Family. It’s a sad story, in ways I’ve already explained.

Early in the novel, there’s a strange dream sequence. Everything is written in italics, and Agee’s style makes a poetic transition.

The following passage from that sequence blew me away.

“I hear my father; I need never fear.
I hear my mother; I shall never be lonely, or want for love.
When I am hungry it is they who provide for me; when I am in dismay, it is they who fill me with comfort.
When I am astonished or bewildered, it is they who make the weak ground firm beneath my soul: it is in them that I put my trust.
When I am sick it is they who send for the doctor; when I am well and happy, it is in their eyes that I know best that I am loved; and it is towards the shining of their smiles that I lift up my heart and in their laughter that I know my best delight.
I hear my father and my mother and they are my giants, my king and my queen, beside whom there are not others so wise or worthy or honorable or brave or beautiful in this world.
I need never fear: nor ever shall I lack for loving-kindness.”

How beautiful is that?

When I read that passage again after completing the book, it had a whole new meaning.

When you think about that passage in the context of the story as a whole–featuring Rufus Follet, an impressionable, bullied kid who loses his father when he’s five–it really strikes to the core. There’s nothing quite like a child’s love for his parents, when they provide and are there for him.

This book is unbelievable. Depressing? Yes. Unbelievably sad? Yes. But those emotions are what make A Death In The Family work.

I’ll review this novel next Tuesday.

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