REVIEW by DAVID CRUMM
Editor of ReadTheSpirit magazine
Here’s an odd way to start a book review, recommending a new title by a favorite author, but please be forewarned: If you’ve never encountered America’s best undertaker-writer, until happening upon this review today, then I have to urge you to meet him somewhere else.
There’s his classic The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade. That was his big debut on the international stage. PBS’s Frontline series even aired a remarkable documentary, The Undertaking, which you can find now on DVD from Amazon and perhaps from your local library.
Beyond the “original” book, I also continue to pull off my bookshelf other Lynch favorites. Years ago, in the pages of this online magazine, we highlighted his fascinating 2010 collection, Apparitions & Late Fictions, which came complete with a novella.
I especially enjoy his poetry—and, even more than poetry on the printed page, opportunities to hear Lynch speak and read before an audience. A writer like Lynch is always at his best declaiming his poetry “live.” He also does a remarkable job reading his essays, adding extra texture of vocal inflections accompanied by all of the asides he loves to toss into the presentation.
In the volume’s introduction, Lynch makes it perfectly clear that this is a somewhat jumbled collection—bits and pieces of writing in various genres that simply needed a home between two covers in the form of a book. So you need to know that the author is offering that cautionary note himself. But the great treasure in Lynch’s work is discovering the cosmos of connections to which he points. The same thing is true here: He’s serving up a great fireside bowl of treats.
The gem in this collection, of course, is called The Black Glacier—which is his account of riding in the hearse and observing the spectacle of poet Seamus Haney’s funeral. Long-time readers of his work will naturally recall the oft-quoted final portion of his book The Undertaking. That’s where Lynch describes what he hopes for his own funeral, beginning with the words: “I’d rather it be in February. Not that it matters much to me.”
In narrating his friend Seamus’ final passage to the grave, we see something quite different than what Lynch envisioned for himself. Yet, even in that passage, Lynch’s eye and ear find the sacred—or what he describes as “Nothing out of the utterly ordinary, utterly pedestrian, a miracle.” And he simply tacks on those words “a miracle” with a wee comma because that’s how life is in Lynch’s world—the miracles roll right along with everything else. It’s ours to spot them and celebrate—or to ignore them at our peril.
There’s a whole lot in this bowl of mixed treats, but that’s my favorite. And frankly, if you stumbled on this review without knowing much about Thomas Lynch—hey, do yourself a treat and order a couple of his books!