Death Visits Everyone…

 Author:  Marion Winik

glen rock cover (174x289)Statistically speaking, odds are that half of all the people you ever meet will die during your lifetime.  Some will be close family or friends, others just acquaintances, but each person’s life will end, possibly leaving only you to tell their unique story.  It seems like it was this kind of morbid sense of responsibility that prompted Marion Winik to write The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, a collection of short poignant essays about some of the dead people she has known.

Collecting death dates over the past several decades, Winik – an acclaimed poet, memoirist and essayist – pens a couple hundred words each about fifty ordinary people who’ve impacted her in some way.  Husbands, family members, neighbors, dentists, teachers and so on.  Some she knew intimately, others just peripherally or in passing.  Many died “naturally” – cancer appears frequently – but others overdosed, died in utero, took their own lives or died in battle.  The one and only thing they have in common is that they’ve all passed on.

The diminutive borough of Glen Rock in southeastern Pennsylvania.

The diminutive borough of Glen Rock in southeastern Pennsylvania.

While almost anyone’s death is bound to evoke feelings of sadness, Winik’s writing is light on the pathos, treating each death as an opportunity for reflection on life rather than despair.  Not surprisingly, she reveals much about her own life as each story passes by, pondering the joys and sorrows of marriage, motherhood and friendship with a profound yet delicate touch.  Somehow, displaying remarkable powers of observation, wit and concision, she’s able to say something memorable and insightful about each of these individuals, no matter how mundane their lives may appear on the surface.

Still-Life with a Skull by Philippe de Champaigne.

Still-Life with a Skull by Philippe de Champaigne, ca. 1671.

Reading about dozens of deaths may sound like an unbearably depressing activity – I must admit that I consumed the book in numerous small doses – but I actually found Winik’s beautiful prose more uplifting than I had expected.  Of course, the most touching stories are the ones that remind me of people I once knew, and I expect that most readers may have a similar experience with at least an essay or two, given the broad expanse of humanity that the author shares in this work.

In the end, The Glen Rock Book of the Dead is a lovingly conceived rumination on life and death by a talented writer who’s not afraid to look the Grim Reaper in the eye.  Sometimes sad, other times funny, it’s well worth a read.  It’s bound to cause you to reflect on your own interconnected web of lives and maybe appreciate life’s brief adventure more deeply.

— D. Driftless

Glen Rock photo by Skabat169

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