James Franco Does William Faulkner's "As I Lay Dying," Plus Cormac McCarthy & the Kiss of Death

So it’s buzz-building time for James Franco’s film version of William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, which has to be one of the goofiest Southern Gothic classics of all, published in 1930, early in Faulkner’s career. Famous for its image of the son sawing wood to make the coffin (maybe it should be labeled Sothern Gothic DIY) for the dying mother, Addie Bundren, the rest of the novel unfolds as the hillbilly Bundren clan hauls her stinky body through the countryside to bury her in the town of Jefferson, suffering a series of mishaps, which includes some seriously homespun medicine. The trailer for the film is here, and apparently is debuting at the Cannes Film Festival soon. I’ll be eager to see it. I’m a big-time Faulkner fan, and As I Lay Dying is one of his quirkiest, even a bit kooky. I admire that.
And I can’t think of William Faulkner now without thinking of Cormac McCarthy, who began his career with the same editor as Faulkner. I don’t actually know if, early in his career at least, McCarthy was compared much to Faulkner, even though they have many similarities, and differences. Both are great writers, and although I favor McCarthy now, it might be because I’ve read Faulkner for many decades, so he seems a bit old hat. A great old hat, but one that’s been worn.
Of course these comparisons are often inherently unfair to the new writer coming along. It used to be any time a young writer published a coming-of-age novel with a winsome, engaging narrator, he was compared to J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield of Catcher in the Rye, which I always thought was the kiss of death. Catcher is so quirky, with such a charming, idiosyncratic voice, that comparing another writer to him was almost to slap a big Derivative label on the book. Now that honor has come to comparisons of young (or even not so young) writers to Cormac McCarthy. I recently reviewed The Blood of Heaven, a debut novel by a young writer named Kent Wascom, and the publisher’s promo material compared him to Cormac McCarthy. I purposely avoided that trap in my review, which should appear in the Dallas Morning News soon. It seems unfair to me. We all want to imitate the greats, and we shouldn’t be dropped into a box labeled Derivative so easily.
And I have to say, this movie poster for Franco’s film (he directed and stars in it, as the “other brother” Darl) is way cool.

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