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A death in the family by James Agee

A death in the family (original 1957; edition 1969)

by James Agee

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Title:A death in the family
Authors:James Agee
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A Death in the Family by James Agee (1957)


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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. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Jun 20, 2016 |
Seriously somber analysis of the effects of a father's death on his survivors. Nice prose deeply analyzing loss and how a family comes together to go on with life. ( )
  dugmel | Apr 27, 2016 |
Now this book has amazing character development! I could see how they go from one point to another, can understand their thoughts and feelings about important events, and could even relate to most of the people in this story. Yay for amazing writing!

The blurb about this book says: The novel is based on the events that occurred to Agee in 1915 when his father went out of town to see his own father, who had suffered a heart attack. During the return trip, Agee's father was killed in a car accident. The novel provides a portrait of life in Knoxville, Tennessee, showing how such a loss affects the young widow, her two children, her atheist father and the dead man's alcoholic brother.

I found the book to be much more about the widow, her children, somewhat her father, but more than the father, her own brother. Though the brother in law was inadvertently significant in why Jay has his accident, he is really insignificant throughout the rest of the story. Really well written from all the important character's points of view. There were some parts of the story which made it obvious we were in 1915, but this account can span all the years and even be applicable today.

All that being said, I found it to be overall boring, unfortunately. I ran up against my distaste for long monologues about the color yellow or things of that nature. But Agee was the kind of writer who put important things in the middle of those monologues, so if I skipped through, I'd not understand a later sentiment. So I'd not necessarily recommend it to read and I don't need to own it, so it gets 3 stars. ( )
  MahanaU | Feb 26, 2016 |
Didn't make it through more than a quarter. ( )
  KathyGilbert | Jan 29, 2016 |
Some aspects of this book drove me crazy but then some parts were so well done. It is a slow moving piece with a great deal of interior characterization that was well done but the backwoods speech of the uneducated family annyoed me greatly in some parts. ( )
  Jen.ODriscoll.Lemon | Jan 23, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 41 (next | show all)
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We are talking now of summer evenings in Knoxville, Tennessee, in the time that I lived there so successfully disguised to myself as a child.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Please do not combine with "A death in the family : a restoration of the author's text"
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375701230, Paperback)

Forty years after its original publication, James Agee's last novel seems, more than ever, an American classic. For in his lyrical, sorrowful account of a man's death and its impact on his family, Agee painstakingly created a small world of domestic happiness and then showed how quickly and casually it could be destroyed.

On a sultry summer night in 1915, Jay Follet leaves his house in Knoxville, Tennessee, to tend to his father, whom he believes is dying. The summons turns out to be a false alarm, but on his way back to his family, Jay has a car accident and is killed instantly. Dancing back and forth in time and braiding the viewpoints of Jay's wife, brother, and young son, Rufus, Agee creates an overwhelmingly powerful novel of innocence, tenderness, and loss that should be read aloud for the sheer music of its prose.

"An utterly individual and original book...one of the most deeply worked out expressions of human feeling that I have ever read."--Alfred Kazin, New York Times Book Review

"It is, in the full sense, poetry....The language of the book, at once luminous and discreet...remains in the mind."--New Republic

"People I know who read A Death in the Family forty years ago still talk about it. So do I. It is a great book, and I'm happy to see it done anew."--Andre Dubus, author of Dancing After Hours and Meditations From A Moveable Chair

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:21 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

On a sultry summer night in 1915, Jay Follet leaves his house in Knoxville, Tennessee, to tend to his father, whom he believes is dying. The summons turns out to be a false alarm, but on his way back to his family, Jay has a car accident and is killed instantly, leaving his wife, brother, and young son to deal with his sudden death.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

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