If the subject of the Inevitable piques your interest, may we suggest...
If you're looking for funeral fiction, William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is the king of the canon. Its curious style creates a moving portrait of the Bundren Family attempting to bury its matriarch Addie Bundren. With almost sixty chapters and fifteen narrators, the novel is a diverse portrait of familial grief. Another brilliant account of death in the South is Eudora Welty's The Optimist's Daughter, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972. The passing of Judge Clint McKelva is the occasion for the novel, but his funeral and memory provide more than enough emotion and drama for his surviving daughter and young window. For something more contemporary, try Ian McEwan's Amsterdam, a dark, but perfect novella. It starts at the funeral of Molly Lane, a charming woman whose life and marriage were full of affairs, and follows three of her many lovers as their working and personal lives entangle.
Craving something more than fiction? Thomas Lynch himself writes frequently on his work as undertaker. His beautiful collection of essays The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade begins tellingly with the line: "Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople." But the classic study of the American funeral industry is Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death. First published in 1963, Mitford's book exposed the expense and excess of funerals and memorials and the racketeering practices of funeral directors around the country. She revised the book just before her death, so look for the updated edition from 1998.
Lynch's nonfiction inspired a PBS Frontline special: The Undertaking. It aired in 2007 and went on to win the 2008 Emmy Award for Arts and Culture Documentary. The film thoroughly chronicles the operations at Lynch & Sons in Michigan, from making arrangements with the families to preparing bodies in the embalming room.
If you're looking for something visual but not as visceral, try HBO's Six Feet Under or Showtime's Dead Like Me. Both shows focus on life after death; "Six Feet Under" is Alan Ball's wicked look at the Fisher family's funeral home business in Los Angeles, while "Dead Wicked", a drama following a half dozen "reapers" as they take the souls of the living and help them on their way to the other side, is more comical.
Read an interview with Thomas Lynch about his career as a funeral director.
This article was originally published in February 2010, and has been updated for the
February 2011 paperback release.
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