(W.W. Norton & Company, July 1997, July 1998)
A collection of twelve essays, The Undertaking is a chronicle of small-town life and death told through the eyes of a poet who is also an undertaker. It was a winner of an American Book Award and finalist for the National Book Award.
“Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople.” So opens this singular and wise testimony. Like all poets, inspired by death, Thomas Lynch is, unlike others, also hired to bury the dead or to cremate them and to tend to their families in a small Michigan town where he serves as the funeral director.
In the conduct of these duties he has kept his eyes open, his ear tuned to the indispensable vernaculars of love and grief. In these twelve pieces his is the voice of both witness and functionary. Here, Lynch, poet to the dying, names the hurts and whispers the condolences and shapes the questions posed by this familiar mystery. So here is homage to parents who have died and to children who shouldn’t have. Here are golfers tripping over grave markers, gourmands and hypochondriacs, lovers and suicides. These are the lessons for life our mortality teaches us.