Apparition & Late Fictions: A Novella and Stories

Lynch, Thomas

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Collection (Short Stories)

  • Date of entry: Jun-02-2010
  • Last revised: Jun-01-2010


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." 


Do you like sweet-and-sour sauce? This book will give you both flavors. Lynch, also a poet, is a stylist of the first rank: his prose is sweet: efficient, witty, precise in observation, and musical. His dialogue is crisp. His descriptions of fishing remind me of Norman Maclean's  A River Runs Through It. When Aisling (the protagonist of "Matineé de Septembre") gets a new wardrobe, the articles are vividly described and related to her psychology. Lynch's paragraphs work as poetic stanzas.

The themes and overall moods are, by contrast, dark and depressing. This is a world of betrayal and sadness, death and remorse. The characters find no comfort in religion, family bonds, social relations, philosophy, or even nature. They seem unschooled in the limits of human life and the nature of tragedy. As a result, they become lonely, angry, self-deceived and doomed. They drink, do drugs, have affairs, and find no solace. Even in "Catch and Release," potentially the most positive story, the surrounding nature has a "damp rotting smell" and, in the distance, with Danny's dog rolling in it, ""something dead and rotting."


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York



Page Count