Thomas Lynch does something absolutely amazing in his memoir, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade. He takes a job that most people don’t think about – and when they do it’s not for happy or positive reasons – and takes you down a winding path of stories about his life and the lessons he has learned over the years.
For being a poet, he isn’t heavy with the fluff and romance most people associate with poetry. His writing is very clear and concise, with straight forward similes, metaphors, and images that pack a punch. The details that are given are precise and paint a clear picture without being too grandiose. He lets the weight of the stories drive the book forward, not his ability to write. Don’t let that fool you into thinking he can’t write. He is extremely talented and an expert when it comes to pen and paper.
Some unique about his style of writing is the sense of being an observer throughout the book. As readers, he is opening up the doors to his life and letting us walk through while he leads us with his stories. There is an air of sophistication and professionalism in his style of writing.
At times, Lynch’s narrative voice can come across as pessimistic, cold, and distant. His favorite line to remind the readers is that “the dead don’t care.” However, Lynch is in fact very sympathetic and humane throughout the book. He’s not a pessimist or an optimist, but instead tells the truth and faces the facts of life to the best of his ability. The reader simply has to pay attention to the details to notice when Lynch is showing his emotions.
Speaking of the subject matter, it is extremely interesting. He takes the concepts of religion, life, love, and death, and breaks them down into mundane moments: his love and fear for his children and their constant safety, his friend who wrote a sensual poem about an “Artichoke,” the girl who was struck by a falling headstone, his mother dying of cancer, preparing the wake for his own father’s funeral, and the boy who committed suicide over a break up. These are crammed into the first few chapters, and the stories continue to tug at your heart strings as you read through the novel.
However, he is clear to emphasize that he is not some sick person who finds joy out of these stories. Lynch reminds the reader that he is simply doing his job, and that his job is to help the grieving cope with their loss.
One of my favorite aspects of the book was the images that were placed in between chapters. These photographs and drawings help guide the reader and prepare them for the story. It adds a bit of a flair to the memoir that really makes it shine.
Overall, Lynch’s memoir easily deserves the numerous awards it has received, and it is a book I would recommend to anyone who wants to experience a poetic mortician share his meanings of life and death.