Funeral director turned writer Lynch (essays: The Undertaking, 1997) brings a soft-spoken humanity to bear on aspects of life as well as death in his debut fiction collection.
Focused on the bereaved, those working in the death professions, or both, Lynch’s first three stories share an overt, clear-eyed preoccupation with the subject of death. Most moving is the opener, “Catch and Release,” in which a “trout bum” whose fishing expertise is a tribute to his father’s love and life lessons spends a day angling, remembering Dad and disposing of his ashes. The human histories are slightly less affecting in “Bloodsport” and “Hunter’s Moon.” The former observes an aging funeral director as he remembers a moment of desire for the young woman, now murdered, whom he must help lay to rest; the latter offers Harold Keehn’s reminiscences about his three wives. Two longer pieces share the earlier stories’ realism and retrospective point of view, but they place greater emphasis on the sum of a life rather than its conclusion. “Matinée de Septembre” showcases a successful academic and poet whose unplanned vacation leads to an ecstatic, transfixing encounter. The title novella, a triumph of empathy, features the reflections of an ex-minister whose failed marriage has led him to celebrity and wealth as a divorce guru. Lynch addresses familiar themes of professional achievement, sexuality and emotional engagement as he scrupulously dissects a mismatched relationship and its aftermath.
Compassion, mourning, joy and wit all play roles in this tender, insightful hefting of mortality’s mysteries.