Photo by Robert Turney. Courtesy of W.W. Norton and Company.
Thomas Lynch’s first collection of essays, The Undertaking, achieved notoriety in part because its author—a small town funeral director and poet—wrote about the delicate job of managing his neighbor’s passing. Bodies in Motion and at Rest, his second collection, again confronts us with refreshing existential reminders, as seen through the lens of a man dealing with death on a daily basis. “There is nothing like the sight of a dead human body to assist with the living in separating the good days from the bad ones.”
Unlike his first book, Bodies in Motion and at Rest does not depend as much upon the strangeness of the mortician’s trade. Rather, Lynch has stretched his subject matter to embrace wider, and, at the same time, more personal, themes. His essays chart human contraction and search for meaning in seemingly unrelated apparitions, often embodied in Lynch himself: funeral director and poet, father and son, Catholic and skeptic. In “Reno,” speaking of the paradoxical kinship between his two vocations, Lynch bares the connection with ease: “Funerals tune our senses to our mortal nature; like proper punctuation, whether we end with exclamation, questions or full stop, they lend meaning to our lives, our human being.”
While in the essays in which emotional instability—the failures of marriage, children, and middle age—is explored, Lynch can’t quite contain these volatile experiences, he succeeds in rendering them with a jagged eloquence. The best of these is “Y2Kat,” in which the long life of a child’s pet becomes the vehicle for Lynch’s own moral and artistic inventory, beginning with the memorable: “By the time you read this the cat will be dead.”
Thomas Lynch’s Bodies in Motion and at Rest has just been published by W. W. Norton & Company.