A novel that reads like a journal—with all entries meditations on the theme of death.
If readers approach this book with conventional expectations (e.g., exposition, complication, climax, denouement), they will be disappointed, for McCartney (The End of the World Book, 2008) forgoes all these elements of fiction. Instead, the narrator—whose voice is impossible to distinguish from that of the author—offers us thoughts on death, dying, corpses, coffins, grave robbers, hearses, cemeteries, and much more. The setting that serves as the locus of “action” here is Holy Cross Cemetery in Los Angeles, the final resting place (as the narrator informs us) of Rita Hayworth, Sharon Tate, Lawrence Welk, and Jimmy Durante, and surely a group as disparate as this shows us death as the great equalizer. We also learn about mass murderers such as the Birnies, a couple who over a period of two months in 1986 “abducted, raped, tortured, and murdered four young women” in Australia, where the author grew up. In fact, he (or the narrator) claims to have met them once. The narrative that unfolds here is obviously grim, but the arcana can be undeniably fascinating. (One is tempted to insert “alas” here.) For example, among other lessons, we learn about the “odors” of death. The narrator admits to being obsessed by his subject. As he states, “I’m the world’s worst listener, except when the subject is death and my ears prick up.” And he’s not concerned solely with the material world—metaphysical speculations enter into his thoughts as well: “when it comes to death, God is at his most imaginative; death is where he gets creative.”
Outré and disturbingly engaging.