The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death (ed David Shields & Bradford Morrow)

Moving essays give a voice to death

Lesley McDowell
Sunday 23 October 2011 01:49

David Gates "hates that the world is leaving [his father] farther and farther behind"; Christopher Sorrentino is surprised to find that "death could begin a great unravelling"; Joyce Carol Oates wonders if she'd "spent too much time in that other world – the world of my/the imagination – and not enough time with my husband."

What is inevitable is that one day we will all die; almost as inevitable is that one day we will have to deal with the death of someone we love. The essays in this collection largely deal with the deaths of others rather than our own, although that lurks behind all of them. Robert Clark searches for the house on Bayham Street where Dickens spent the worst time of his life – working in a blacking factory while his father languished in debtors' prison – in need of some confirmation that he and the little sister whom his mother shunned were once there: we all need to leave our mark.

For Jonathan Safran Foer, "death" is just a mark; a sign left where words can't say the un-sayable. Melissa Pritchard takes herself off to a Scottish writers' retreat after the death of her mother, and discovers the 17th-century poet William Drummond trying to articulate it: "Death ... the stealer of parents from their children." Art, according to Geoff Dyer, is to honour the dead and delight the living. This moving, thoughtful and necessary collection voices it all, reassuring and frightening in equal measure.

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