Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Thomas Lynch, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade.

I reread Lynch's book because I finally bought a copy of it for myself. It's one I've long wanted to own, and its addition to my library seemed like a good time to reread it. I came across this book after reading a profile of Alan Ball in the Globe. This was the book, the profile informed me, that prompted one of my favourite shows, Six Feet Under.

The book was a finalist for the National Book Awards, and won an American Book Award in 1998; reading it, it's immediately obvious why.

Lynch, you see, is a poet. His prose doesn't read like most; it's crafted with an eye to evoking images, and to cramming the shortest passages with dozens of finely honed, careful ideas. He points out a number of times in the book that his subject is one of the two subjects that have fruitful for poets--death (the other being sex, of course)--and his own work as a Funeral Director provides a rich repository of observations for talking about people confronting death. His chapters range from describing an idea for a combination golf course/graveyard to a hypochondriac, to an attempt to rebuild a bridge to allow access to a cemetary to a discussion of what it is that a Funeral Director does to divorce to life to death...

Throughout, Lynch argues that we try to ignore and marginalize death. That we seem to hope that by ignoring it, we may avoid it. And yet, he says, it is only by confronting death that we can live. He posits this idea so beautifully that I'll not try further to summarize it here. Instead, I'll tell you to go read it. I think you'll enjoy it; you'd be hard pressed not to.

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