A series of essays functions as a memento mori.
Mira y Lopez’s first book is a thoughtful, intriguing collection of 10 personal essays dealing with the dead and where they end up. Many have been previously published in a variety of publications, including the Georgia Review and the Alaska Quarterly Review. Throughout the book, the author delicately interweaves remembrances of his mother and dead father. “Overburden” is about Tucson’s National Cemetery, created in the late 1800s and now defunct. “A city buries its dead just so it can keep on living,” writes Mira y Lopez. “Whether exhumed or not, a grave doesn’t maintain what’s been lost so much as it concedes the ghost is never really coming back.” Then it’s off to the Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome. A bacteria discovered in the catacombs in 2008 was eating away the walls, creating a dilemma: “What is to be done when the only thing left alive in a place also destroys it?” The author’s sharp, illuminating essay on the 18th-century Venetian painter Canaletto, employing a slightly modernist structure, doesn’t deal with death at all except, briefly, the painter’s. The artist who had produced nearly 600 paintings left behind some old clothes, household items, a smattering of paintings, and an incredible documentary record of a city both real and imagined. The longest and best piece, “The Eternal Comeback,” is about the author’s tour of the cryonics lab of the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, in Scottsdale, Arizona. Begun in 1972, the company houses nearly 150 bodies, and brains, all preserved at minus 196 degrees Celsius in liquid nitrogen. While outside Hutchinson, Kansas, 650 feet underground, in the “most secure underground vault in the world,” rest memory boxes put together by their clients for when they return, “At least, if all goes according to plan.”
Some pieces register better than others, but these are wide-ranging and often tender meditations on death.