"...I had come to know that the undertaking that my father did had less to do with what was done to the dead and more to do with what the living did about the fact of life that people died," Thomas Lynch muses in his preface to The Undertaking.
The same could be said for Lynch's book: ostensibly about death and its attendant rituals, The Undertaking is in the end about life. In each case, he writes, it is the one that gives meaning to the other. A funeral director in Milford, Michigan, Lynch is that strangest of hyphenates, a poet-undertaker, but according to Lynch, all poets share his occupation, "looking for meaning and voices in life and love and death."
Looking for meaning takes him to all sorts of unexpected places, both real and imagined. He embalms the body of his own father, celebrates the rebuilt bridge to his town's old cemetery, takes issue with the Jessica Mitfords of this world, and envisages a "golfatorium," a combination golf course and cemetery that could restore joy to the last rites. In "Crapper," Lynch even contemplates the subtleties of the modern flush toilet and its relationship to the messy business of dying: "Just about the time we were bringing the making of water and the movement of bowels into the house, we were pushing the birthing and marriage and sickness and dying out." Death and fatherhood, death and friendship, death and faith and love and poetry--these are the concerns that power Lynch's undertaking. Throughout, Lynch pleads the case for our dead--who are, after all, still living through us--with an eloquence marked by equal parts whimsy, wit, and compassion. In the last essay, "Tract," he envisions almost wistfully the funeral he'd choose for himself, and then relinquishes that, too. Funerals, after all, are for the living. The dead, he reminds us, don't care.
©1997 Thomas Lynch (P)2013 Audible, Inc.
"[Lynch] brings the lessons of death to life, and turns life and death into art." (Time Out New York)
"A memoir that is stand-out superb." (Esquire)
"Forceful, authentic and full of a kind of ethical and aesthetic clarity." (New York Times)
I wanted to read this as soon as the book appeared in the audible.com inventory. "The Undertaking" attracted my attention as the subject is neither common nor comfortable for many. So I couldn't wait to jump right in.
Thomas Lynch is both a published poet and the director of a funeral home; perhaps an odd pairing of professions, but each job informs the other and stories of the living (as he cares for and buries the dead) flow poetically through this novel as the Huron River flows through his home town in Michigan. As Lynch anecdotally brings life to those his clients have left behind, the poetry within the prose is musical, nuanced, and sustaining.
Kevin T. Collins' performance makes a substantial contribution and I am not certain this book will impact readers in quite the same way as hearing it read with such sensitivity, emotion, and grace, and at times I could not tell if I was reading prose or poetry.
I was unprepared for the humor, joy, linguistic melody of this book, at my first reading of it. Now, I have read it in print, listened to it on Audible (3 times) with no diminishment of pleasure. Lynch offers us new opportunities for appreciation of Life despite our human foibles and grand distractions, he gives us something to be hopeful about.
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