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The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Tradeby Thomas Lynch
Thomas Lynch has two occupations: poet and undertaker. Wedding the two in this book of personal essays, he shatters our conception of an undertaker as wan, reserved, and staid, replacing it with one who is colorful, brazen, and whimsical. This is not a dry, dismal book about death. It's a book about life and those who attend to the grieving. It meditates on marriage, parenthood, Ireland, and medically-controlled passings. There's an absorbing essay on a poem about an artichoke, the mysteries of art, and the delicate conference between men and women, as well as a ribald essay, "Crapper," about our inability to deal with an actual dead body, let alone the mere thought of dying. Undertaking, as the title implies, stretches beyond mere caskets and morticians to encompass small tasks and larger struggles. At times a homage to grieving families, an indictment of the funeral business, and a meditation on death (and therefore life), this is a spellbinding collection.
Synopses & Reviews
Thomas Lynch would make a wonderful lunch companion. He's wise, playfully intelligent, and darkly humorous, the perfect person to converse with about life, family, morality, and faith. All over a good bottle of red. That he is both poet and undertaker would lend the discourse a more enigmatic and soulful tone, as well as a good dose of the pragmatism necessary for one in his profession. Lynch's The Undertaking, a National Book Award nominee and winner of the American Book Award in 1998, comprises a series of essays chronicling life as the local undertaker in the small Michigan town of Milford. Along with touching descriptions of Milford's inhabitants, domestic details and intimacies (from his broken marriage to his Uncle Eddie's suicide cleanup service) there are Lynch's quirky imaginings, such as his idea to create a "golfatorium" ? a combination golf course and cemetery. He followed in his father's footsteps professionally, and writes about the task of embalming him on his death. Suicide and Jack Kevorkian, infant death and car crashes, actuarial tables and the hundred percent guarantee that we're all going to kick it in the end, all appear in this memoir-meets-musings, with plenty of fascinating insider knowledge for a little spice. Lynch writes as much about poetry as he does about death, and yet the fundamental theme is life ? in all its grace and pain. After all, we are continually reminded in The Undertaking that "the dead don't care." Abigail, Powells.com
Thomas Lynch serves his readership as a poet and memoirist, and his townspeople as a funeral director. In this wholly unique collection of essays, the two vocations meet as Lynch shows himself to be a competent functionary of mourning — dispensing comfort and homespun wisdom to the grief-stricken — as well as a poet poignantly tuning language to the right tones of private release. He is also a man of sardonic wit, uncovering humor where we least thought to find it — in our fear of and fascination with death. In its homages to parents who have died and to children who shouldn't have, its tales of golfers tripping over grave markers, portraits of gourmands and hypochondriacs, lovers and suicides, The Undertaking displays an impressively wide vocal range — from solemn, nostalgic, and lyrical to acerbic, sprightly, and unflinchingly professional.
A National Book Award finalist, this collection of unique essays "brims with humanity, irreverence, and invigorating candor" ("The Nation").
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