A wry and compassionate selection of essays reflecting on mortals and mortality, from the acclaimed author of The Undertaking.
For nearly four decades, poet, essayist, and small-town funeral director Thomas Lynch has probed relations between the literary and mortuary arts. His life’s work with the dead and the bereaved has informed four previous collections of nonfiction, each exploring identity and humanity with Lynch’s signature blend of memoir, meditation, gallows humor, and poetic precision.
The Depositions provides an essential selection from these masterful collections—essays on fatherhood, Irish heritage, funeral rites, and the perils of bodiless obsequies—as well as new essays in which the space between Lynch’s hyphenated identities—as an Irish American, undertaker-poet—is narrowed by the deaths of poets, the funerals of friends, the loss of neighbors, intimate estrangements, and the slow demise of a beloved dog.
In “Gladstone,” from The Undertaking, Lynch reflects on his then twenty-five years as an undertaker at the Midwinter Conference for Michigan funeral directors, which incongruously takes place on an island in the Caribbean. With brutal, generous honesty, “The Way We Are,” from Bodies in Motion and at Rest, grapples with Lynch’s time as a single parent coming to terms with generations of his family inheritance of alcoholism and recovery. The press of the author’s own mortality animates the new essays, sharpening a curiosity about where we come from, where we go, and what it means.
As Alan Ball writes in a penetrating foreword, Lynch’s work allows us “to see both the absurdity and the beauty of death, sometimes simultaneously.” With this landmark collection, he continues to illuminate not only how we die, but also how we live.
This meditative, often emotionally affecting collection from funeral director, poet, and essayist Lynch (Whence and Whither) explores, with personal honesty and philosophical curiosity, the intersection of faith, death, family, and vocation. It features selections from Lynch's four previous collections, along with five new pieces. It begins with "The Undertaking," an introduction to his trade that is moving and humorous in turns the latter, particularly, as Lynch considers people's frequent discomfort with his profession, noting, "I am no more attracted to the dead than the dentist is to your bad gums." Despite this flippant remark, Lynch explores his work as a spiritual one. In "How We Come to Be the Ones We Are," he recalls how learning Catholicism's language and rituals in childhood informed his work. In "Y2Kat," one of the standout pieces, Lynch views his first marriage's collapse through the metaphor of the ancient, seemingly immortal family cat that hates him, again expertly straddling the line between comedy and tragedy. In the new essays, Lynch contemplates the potential collapse of his second marriage and the challenge of maintaining sobriety during dark days, among other topics. Providing an excellent entry point for newcomers to Lynch's work, this assemblage is an erudite but unpretentious discussion of life and mortality by a master craftsman of language.