Showing 1 - 4 of 4 annotations associated with Lynch, Thomas
- Carter, III, Albert Howard
Summary:This is a collection of four stories and a novella with pervasive themes of death, loss, grieving, mourning, and anger; the characters live in rural parts of the upper midwest, and there is much unhappiness in their lives.
In "Catch and Release," we accompany Danny, a talented fishing guide "not quite thirty," as he floats down a stream he knows well. He and his siblings have divided his father's ashes, his portion now in a thermos. His father died suddenly, absurdly on a bathroom floor. Although Danny knows nature well (and loves it), he is angry and heartsick. Nor is religion a comfort. Bit by bit he scatters the ashes, but there is no healing ritual.
In "Bloodsport" a young man murders is wife and then kills himself. The town funeral director feels this is "utterly incomprehensible" but provides his professional services to the family and all who come to the service and burial. He knew the young woman, Elena, and found her attractive; now he embalms her. Twenty years later he feels a "sense of shame" that men "let her down badly."
"Hunter's Moon" presents Harold, a casket salesman. Retired, he goes on long walks, trying to make sense of is life and loves. He likes naming things. His first wife left him for another woman. His daughter (pregnant and drunk) was killed by a train. His second wife left him. His third wife died of cancer. He abuses antidepressants and liquor. Sitting on his front porch, he slumps over. All night a dog keeps watch over, we assume, his dead body.
In "Matineé de Septembre" we find a reworking of Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice." In both stories, a literary figure escapes ordinary time, falling in love with a young person of the opposite sex, and falling into decadent gestures in the hope of recapturing youth. Both efforts end in failure and death. In Mann's story, the person is an older man of much literary accomplishment. In Lynch's retelling, the person is a professor and "poet of note," although not really of international fame. Actually she's a woman of inherited wealth, a wealthy snob, a narcissist, a survivor of a "perfectly bargained marriage." Her one child was stillborn. A dozen hints at her headaches suggest that she is doomed, and she dies in the last paragraph, without (as in the Mann story) the notice of the literary world.
After these grim tales comes the satiric (and also grim) novella, "Apparition." We follow one Adrian Littlefield (the last name is symbolic) who was a strait-laced pastor, then (after his wife left him) a self-help author who urged post-divorce people to live it up. The satire is trenchant. Adrian's big book is "Good Riddance." A church fundraiser with gambling allows "otherwise devout people to wallow in sin for a worthy cause." Adrian has girlfriends and one-nighters. He's an expensive speaker. Fortunately one Mary De Dona provides him with gratuitous sex, and he is saved. Now 50+, he visits the empty house where his wife once lived, learning little; his tour guide, one "Gloria" is in her 70s, married for 58 years, with grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He wishes he could have had such a life and feels "a wave of sadness."
In this collection, Thomas Lynch, a funeral director, examines many of the same topics he explores in his essays (see this database for annotations of The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade and Bodies in Motion and at Rest: On Metaphor and Mortality). In section one, he writes about sin and redemption ("Attende Domine," "Inviolata," "Panis Angelicus"), death and grief ("Late April," "Month’s Mind,"), love and sex ("O Gloriosa Virginum," "Casablanca," "Veni Creator Spiritus," "The Hammock"), and introduces his own point-of-view as one who tends the dead ("In Paradisum").
In the second section, Lynch delves more deeply into sin ("Byzance") and memory. In the section’s first poem, "Liberty," Lynch introduces himself as a man from a "fierce bloodline of men," and in the next five poems writes about "Argyle," perhaps a relative, perhaps an alter-ego. A long poem, "The Moveen Notebook," follows, relating the story of Lynch’s family home in Ireland and his relatives who lived and died there, ancestors who are also represented in Lynch’s essays. The rest of the poems expand upon family and memory and serve to complete the portrait of the narrator, a man who tends "toward preachment / and the body politic," who rages and who wants to "offer a witness" ("St. James’ Park Epistle").
The poems in section three serve as laments. Here Lynch addresses the failures of gods and men ("A Rhetoric upon Brother Michael’s Rhetoric upon the Window," "One of Jack’s") and the wonder of aging ("Loneliest of Trees, The Winter Oak"). But the main body of this section comprises stark poems about women and poems about Lynch’s work ("Heavenward," "The Lives of Women," "That Scream if You Ever Hear It," "These Things Happen in the Lives of Women," "How It’s Done Here," "At the Opening of Oak Grove Cemetery Bridge").
In "Couplets," Lynch speaks of teaching his sons the funeral business and the horrors they witness. In the brief poem "Aubade," he tells of an abused woman’s suicide. The last poem of the book, "Still Life in Milford--Oil on Canvas by Lester Johnson," is both a portrait of the town and of the author: "Between the obsequies, I play with words."
This collection of 20 essays continues and expands upon the theme--how we living care for our dead and incorporate them into memory--that Thomas Lynch, a poet and undertaker, introduced in his first book, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (see this database).
In this new book, Lynch writes rambling pieces that begin with some observation about his funereal trade then blaze off into musings about religion ("The Dead Priest"), love and divorce ("The Blindness of Love," "Y2Cat"), poetry ("Reno," "Notes on 'A Note on the Rapture to His True Love'"), and the interplay of mortality and morality ("Wombs," "The Bang & Whimper and the Boom"). In his first book, Lynch wrote scathingly of abortion and mercy killing, and here he continues his thought provoking considerations of both.
In what might be the most interesting and radical essay in this collection, "Wombs," Lynch walks a precarious line between pro-life and pro-choice rhetoric; ultimately, he asserts a woman's right to abhor decisions about her body that "leave her out." At the same time, he asks if the reproductive choices available to women, "when considered for men," might not seem "irresponsible, overly indulgent, and selfish." What if, he writes, men could declare (without stating their reasons) their interest in their unborn children "null and void, ceased and aborted?" Lynch, who spends most of his time in the contemplation of the deceased, seems to find in death a spark of life; then he fans it into flame with language.
A 199-page collection of twelve essays by undertaker and poet Thomas Lynch, superficially about his mortuary trade, but actually about much more--life and death; the process of mourning; how we human beings pass though our common lives with grace or desperation; how the graveside ritual serves memory, family, and society. In the preface, Lynch says that early on he came to understand that the undertaking trade he would inherit from his father had little to do with what was done to the dead, but everything to do with how the living responded to the deaths of loved ones, neighbors, and friends.
Particularly outstanding essays include "The Undertaking," in which Lynch divulges the practical and emotional secrets of his trade as he buries Milo, a man who owned a Laundromat; "Crapper," a humorous, rollicking essay that demonstrates our modern society's inability to deal either with the thought of dying or the actual dead body; "The Gulfatorium," a flight of fancy about building a graveyard in a golf course, but really about the nature of suffering and the afterlife; "Mary & Wilbur," about neighbors, about our fear of death and our impulse to memorialize; "Uncle Eddie, Inc.," about an uncle's "clean-up service" that sanitized rooms after messy suicides and about the natural order of life and death and the moral implications of our manipulation of that order through assisted suicide, abortion, and genetic manipulation. My personal favorite is the final essay, "Tract," in which Lynch says how he wants his own death and burial to be managed, how he, a witness to our final rituals, wants to be witnessed.