Jennifer's Reviews > The Undertaking: Life Studies From The Dismal Trade

The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch
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Jun 30, 11

bookshelves: library-loan, non-fiction, read2011
Read from June 14 to 30, 2011

I really enjoyed this 'dismal' book. The author, poet/undertaker weaves lyrically but sometimes very pragmatically in, out and around the big subjects of Life and Death and lives and deaths.

I sometimes felt he was a little too defensive about his trade - he doesn't (I don't recall) quite describe Jessica Mitford (of "The American Way of Death") as 'that nasty woman' but you do get the impression that's what he thinks. I don't feel he adequately addresses why she might have been wrong. He does also seem to dwell graphically on young murder victims - it's a good counterpoint to the lyricism but there was not enough about the ordinary deaths. I am very familiar with the need to go through these things but this is a book and perhaps his editor should have had a better overview.

The book is very informed by his Catholic upbringing and continued, after a fashion, faith, although there is no offputting assumption that we are all the same. The piece on 'assisted suicide' is very thought provoking - and faintly hilarious when he talks about his brother's feelings that his 'cleaning up after messy death' business is being undermined by Kevorkian and his ilk offering clean and tidy suicide. He has an interesting take on the idea of planning your own funeral so as not to be a bother to your children. I also enjoyed his delineation of the fundamental differences between his parents' outlook on life - his father's fearfulness (which he takes after - and writes very amusingly about worrying about his children) and his mother's faith that you leave it in the hands of the Lord.

I got a real sense of a man who likes and cares for humanity, in general and in specifics. He writes so gently about his friends.

I can imagine the book might be disturbing, distressing, depressing to some but others, including me, will find it fundamentally uplifting.
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