Apparition and Late Fictions

“Sex and death…are the only subjects worth thinking about,” a widowed poetry professor instructs her students in one of the stories filled with both in Thomas Lynch’s Apparition and Late Fictions. Lynch, a Michigan funeral director and poet, cited the same Yeats assertion, clearly a touchstone for him, in his wonderful book of personal essays about “the dismal trade,” The Undertaking (1997). Like his essays, Lynch’s fiction also concerns love and grief, which “share the one body.” His characters are embalmers, casket salesmen, poets, ministers, fishing guides, and the widowed professor whose creepy infatuation with a beautiful teenager at a fancy Mackinac Island resort evokes Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice. They mourn husbands, wives, parents, and young girls who are gone but not forgotten. Less fondly, they also remember exes, for whom “A little Good Riddance goes a long way.”

The small-town assistant pastor in the title novella discovers his true calling only after his wife leaves him and their two children for greater excitement. After rediscovering the balm of “sex with a generous stranger,” he writes a lively manifesto to “faith in flux” called Good Riddance — Divorcing for Keeps that proposes “that some divorces, like some marriages, are made in heaven.” It’s a game changer in his life, much, we suspect, as being left with four small children and later publishing The Undertaking were in Lynch’s. It’s interesting to see some of the same themes treated with the additional elaboration and nuance of fiction, but for sheer impact, it’s hard to compete with the plainspoken directness of Lynch’s morbid but moving real-life tales from the mortuary.