The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade

The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade

Paperback

By (author) Thomas Lynch

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Paperback $11.09
  • Publisher: VINTAGE
  • Format: Paperback | 256 pages
  • Dimensions: 128mm x 196mm x 22mm | 240g
  • Publication date: 2 April 1998
  • Publication City/Country: London
  • ISBN 10: 0099767317
  • ISBN 13: 9780099767312
  • Illustrations note: map
  • Sales rank: 773,096

Product description

Like all poets, inspired by death, Lynch is, unlike others, also hired to bury the dead or cremate them and to tend to their families in a small Michigan town where he serves as the funeral director. In the conduct of these duties he has kept his eyes open, his ears tuned to the indispensable vernaculars of love and grief. In these twelve essays is the voice of both witness and functionary. Lynch stands between 'the living and the living who have dies' with the same outrage and amazement, straining for the same glimpse we all get of what mortality means to a vital species. So here is homage to parents who have died and to children who shouldn't have. Here are golfers tripping over grave-markers, gourmands and hypochondriacs, lovers and suicides. These are essays of rare elegance and grace, full of fierce compassion and rich in humour and humanity - lessons taught to the living by the dead.

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Author information

'Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople.' So opens the singular testimony of the American poet, Thomas Lynch. Like all poets, inspired by death, Lynch is, unlike others, also hired to bury the dead or cremate them to tend to their families in a small Michigan town where he serves as the funeral director. In the conduct of these duties he has kept his eyes open, his ears tuned to the indispensable vernaculars of love and grief. In these twelve essays is the voice of the both witness and functionary. Lynch stands between 'the living and the living who have died' with the same outrage and amazement, straining for the same glimpse we all get of what mortality means to a vital species. These are essays of rare elegance and grace, full of fierce compassion and rich in humour and humanity - lessons taught to the living by the dead. Thomas Lynch is the author of Grimalkin & Other Poems (1994). His poems and essays have appeared in the London Review of Books and The New Yorker.

Review quote

"These craggy "life studies," forged during his years in the "dismal trade," are always forceful, authentic and full of a kind of ethical and esthetic clarity." -- Richard Bernstein New York Times

Editorial reviews

Eloquent, meditative observations on the place of death in small-town life, from the only poet/funeral director in Milford, Mich. Poets like Lynch (Grimalkin and Other Poems) tend to be more respectful about death and the grave than novelists like Evelyn Waugh or journalists like Jessica Mitford. Lynch lives by the old-fashioned undertakers' motto, "Serving the living by caring for the dead" (as opposed to more mundanely providing, as one seminar put it, "What Folks Want in a Casket"). Taking up the family business, Lynch philosophically bears his responsibilities in Milford, which has its statistical share of accidents, suicides, murders, and grieving survivors. His essential respect for the living and the dead notwithstanding, his shop talk perforce has its morbid aspects, such as making "pre-arrangements" with future clients, reminding families about uncollected cremation ashes, taking middle-of-the-night calls for collection, or, in a rare filial obligation, embalming his own father. But the author has a sense of the absurd possibilities of his business, even a whimsical scheme to run a combination golf course/burial ground. In one of the livelier essays, he reflects on the competition - both professional and philosophical - fellow Michiganite Dr. Jack Kevorkian, with his no-muss suicide machine, poses to Uncle Eddie's postmortem-clean-up business, Specialized Sanitation Services ("Why leave a mess? Call Triple S!"). In the high point of these dozen essays, he combines his profession and his vocation, delivering the dedicatory poem for the reopening of the restored bridge to Milford's old cemetery - "This bridge connects our daily lives to them./and makes them, once our neighbors, neighbors once again." Already excerpted in Harper's and the London Review of Books, this thoughtful volume is neither too sentimental nor too clinical about death's role (and the author's) in our lives. (Kirkus Reviews)