A sequel to The Glen Rock Book of the Dead (2008), the author’s previous collection of sharp-eyed memorials.
Though Winik (MFA Program/Univ. of Baltimore; Highs in the Low Fifties: How I Stumbled Through the Joys of Single Living, 2013, etc.) is most widely regarded as a humorist, through her columns and NPR commentary, death has been a focus of her book projects since First Comes Love (1996). As she observes in the introduction to her latest, “death is the subtext of life, there is no way around it. It is the foundation of life’s meaning and value.” The author also explains that her volumes reflect chronology rather than geography; despite the title, these aren’t Baltimore’s deaths but rather deaths that have occurred since she moved to Baltimore from Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, in 2009. So there’s plenty about her New Jersey girlhood, beginning with the opening piece on her mother and proceeding through the deaths of family members and her mother’s friends. Then she moves on to her pivotal years in Texas, where she found her voice and professional identity in Austin. Winik also commemorates people she didn’t know personally but whose deaths affected her and the culture deeply, including David Bowie and Lou Reed. In writing about these dozens of deaths, the author is writing about life in general, how quickly it can change and how long a memory can persist, and her life in particular, “how big ideas about art and revolution were so easily infected with the stupid romance of self-destruction.” Some die without warning, as Winik writes of an unnamed friend (almost all of those who inspired these pieces go unnamed), “he was fifty-six, just like my own father who died the same way: the heart in the dark of the night that loses its way.” The famous and the anonymous, the scandalous and the respectable: All get their due. For all of the variety in details and circumstance, all of the stories proceed to the same ending.
Insightful pieces with a cumulative impact that wouldn’t work as well standing alone.