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Buy it, read it, meditate on it, be moved - a classic,
This review is from: A Death in the Family (Hardcover)
How far we all come. How far we all come away from ourselves....You can never go home again." - Quote from A Death in the Family
Rufus James Agee was born in a little house in the Fort Sanders Neighborhood in Knoxville, Tennessee. His November 17, 1909 birth was little noticed outside of his family. He was baptized at St. John's Episcopal Church, and grew up in a stable and loving family. However, the day his postal-worker father died in an auto accident marked the end of his carefree existence. This accident scarred the family forever, but produced a genius.
In 1916 at the age of seven, soon after his father's death, James was sent away to boarding school in the Appalachians. At Saint Andrews Seminary, he was introduced to classical literature, music, and the benefits of determined study. It is also where he felt most isolated and rejected by his family. His hard academic work paid off when he received a scholarship to Exeter Academy. From there, James made his way to Harvard University.
After graduation in 1932, James began working as journalist for Fortune Magazine. During his time in New York, he published his only volume of poetry, Permit Me Voyage. In 1936 James and a friend, famed photographer Walker Evans, returned to the south to document the lives of Southern farmers during the depression. The result became Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, which was published in 1941. Yet, James still felt abandoned.
James continued to live an emotionally barren life. By the 1940s, he had began writing for The New Masses, a procommunist magazine. He was working on destroying his third marriage, and his incessant drinking and smoking was destroying his heart. In contrast, he also began writing one of the most respected tomes of his life - A Death in the Family.
The acute changes which resulted from the death of James' father are the meat and bones of his Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Unfortunately, James never lived long enough to see his book so well-received. He died of a heart attack on his way to a doctor's appointment on May 16, 1955 - the fortieth anniversary of his own father's death.
A Death in the Family is hauntingly autobiographical.
"The head, the hand, dwelt in completion, immutable, indestructible: Motionless. They moved upon existence quietly as stones which withdraw through water for which there is no floor . . . . The hand was so composed that it seemed at once casual and majestic. It stood exactly above the center of his body. The fingers looked unusually clean and dry, as if they had been scrubbed with great care . . . . The eyes were casually and quietly closed, the eyelids were like silk on the balls, and when Rufus glanced quickly from the eyes to the mouth it seemed as if his father were almost about to smile. Yet the mouth carried no suggestion either of smiling or of gravity; only strength, silence, manhood, and indifferent contentment."
Rufus James Agee died after years of heavy drinking and a hard driven, unorthodox life. In his forty short years, he was a poet, novelist, journalist, film critic, and social activist. Yet he was constantly trying to rid himself of his childhood wounds, and in doing so, he created some of the nation's best literature.
Buy it, read it, meditate on it, be moved