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Are you out of your Kevorking mind?

This is another review reprinted from Morbid Curiosity.  It comes from issue #2:

 Life Studies from the Dismal TradeThe Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade by Thomas Lynch
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Thomas Lynch is an undertaker and a poet. Unsurprisingly, one occupation interests me more than the other. When he tells the tales of things he has seen -- the late night “removals” he's performed, the children he buried while his own kids grew up, the bedrooms he painted so the surviving spouse wouldn’t sleep beneath the shotgun’s evidence -- those stories are riveting.

Some of what he has to say comes perilously close to testifying: he has seen our futures and it’s later than we think. One essay considers the past in which babies were born in a room near the kitchen, young people were married in the parlor, and the dead were laid out and waked in their own homes. In those days, people were familiar with the physical realities of life. Once "shitting" moved from the out-house to the porcelain throne, and the dead were shifted from the place where they lived to the funeral “home,” society began to fall apart. Every now and then, Lynch likes to shit in his garden, just to reconnect with nature. I’m not making this up. He doesn’t go so far as to recommend everyone try it, but the implication is that the undertaker knows what’s good for us.

Unfortunately, Lynch crosses the line between testifying and preaching when he writes about suicide. He likens assisted suicide to abortion. Just because he has the “ability to piss on his neighbor’s day lilies,” that doesn’t mean he has the right. (Do you see a theme developing here?) He stops short of saying that suicide is a sin, but points out that as a Catholic boy, he was raised to believe in offering up one’s pain for the good of the suffering souls. One wonders how differently he will feel about the matter when his agony lingers for months on end as he’s eaten by the cancer that killed his mother. Of course, he expects to die quickly and relatively painlessly from the bad heart his father left him…

Still, Lynch is more than half a businessman. He relates the story of his brother, who owned a business created to clean up after suicides. The brother sold the business after Kevorkian began his crusade (Lynch works in Michigan, after all). It wasn’t that people were no longer going to kill themselves, they just weren’t going to make such a mess. The brother saw no profit in continuing to serve the grieving public. Lynch, however, foresees that if he can’t prevent assisted suicides, he may as well open “obitoria” where people can come to die in a building beside the funeral home. One-shop stopping.

This was a frustrating book, but full of food for thought. Most of the essays were structured like poems: a stanza on one topic, a stanza on another, quick interplay between the two as if in a chorus, several more stanzas, a final chorus. I found the lack of linear thought dizzying. Yet the poet has a gift for phrasing. I find myself wanting to adopt some of Lynch’s bon mots, like “Are you out of your kevorking mind?”

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