THE UNDERTAKING by Thomas Lynch

THE UNDERTAKING

Life Studies from the Dismal Trade
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Eloquent, meditative observations on the place of death in small-town life, from the only poet/funeral director in Milford, Mich. Poets like Lynch (Grimalkin and Other Poems) tend to be more respectful about death and the grave than novelists like Evelyn Waugh or journalists like Jessica Mitford. Lynch lives by the old- fashioned undertakers' motto, ``Serving the living by caring for the dead'' (as opposed to more mundanely providing, as one seminar put it, ``What Folks Want in a Casket''). Taking up the family business, Lynch philosophically bears his responsibilities in Milford, which has its statistical share of accidents, suicides, murders, and grieving survivors. His essential respect for the living and the dead notwithstanding, his shop talk perforce has its morbid aspects, such as making ``pre-arrangements'' with future clients, reminding families about uncollected cremation ashes, taking middle-of-the-night calls for collection, or, in a rare filial obligation, embalming his own father. But the author has a sense of the absurd possibilities of his business, even a whimsical scheme to run a combination golf course/burial ground. In one of the livelier essays, he reflects on the competition--both professional and philosophical--fellow Michiganite Dr. Jack Kevorkian, with his no-muss suicide machine, poses to Uncle Eddie's postmortem-clean-up business, Specialized Sanitation Services (``Why leave a mess? Call Triple S!''). In the high point of these dozen essays, he combines his profession and his vocation, delivering the dedicatory poem for the reopening of the restored bridge to Milford's old cemetery--``This bridge connects our daily lives to them,/and makes them, once our neighbors, neighbors once again.'' Already excerpted in Harper's and the London Review of Books, this thoughtful volume is neither too sentimental nor too clinical about death's role (and the author's) in our lives. (illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: July 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-393-04112-3
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Norton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1997




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