A Long Day at the End of the Worldby Brent Hendricks
A chilling memoir of the Tri-State Crematory incident
In February 2002, hundreds of abandoned and decayed bodies were discovered at the Tri-State Crematory in rural Georgia, making it the largest mass desecration in modern American history. The perpetrator—a well-respected family man and a former hometown football star—had managed to/p>/b>
A chilling memoir of the Tri-State Crematory incident
In February 2002, hundreds of abandoned and decayed bodies were discovered at the Tri-State Crematory in rural Georgia, making it the largest mass desecration in modern American history. The perpetrator—a well-respected family man and a former hometown football star—had managed to conceal the horror for five years.
Among the bodies found at the Tri-State Crematory was that of Brent Hendricks's father. To quell the psychic disturbance surrounding the desecration, Hendricks embarked on a pilgrimage to the crematory site in Georgia. In A Long Day at the End of the World, he reveals his very complicated relationship with the South as he tries to reconcile his love-hate feelings for the culture with his own personal and familial history there, and his fascination with the disturbed landscape. In achingly beautiful prose, Hendricks explores his fraught relationship with his father—not just the grief that surrounded his death but the uncanniness of his resurrection.
It's a story that's so heart-wrenching, so unbelievable, and so sensational that it would be easy to tell it without delving deep. But Hendricks's inquiry is unrelenting, and he probes the extremely difficult questions about the love between a parent and a child, about the way human beings treat each other—in life and in death—and about the sanctity of the body. It's the perfect storm for a true Southern Gothic tale.
“When Brent Hendricks' book came across my desk, I was attracted to the elegiac cover design. When I discovered it was about the Tri-State Crematory scandal, my interest grew. But when I read Hendricks' gorgeous prose, I was floored.” Suzanne Van Atten, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Astonishing and unclassifiable, personal and apocalyptical, mystical and mythical, this little book, beautifully written and explosively patterned, sets out to fathom the unfathomable and, uncannily, pretty much succeeds in doing so.” Joy Williams, author of The Quick and the Dead
“Training one eye on poetry and the other on the apocalypse, Brent Hendricks has written a book I can't stop thinking about. What a beautiful and uncanny accomplishment it is, and how well and unexpectedly its pieces fit together: at once the recreation of a crime and its aftermath, a meditation on the way a landscape can have its meanings shattered by circumstance, and the memoir of a son whose bond with his father remains as troubled in death as it was in life.” Kevin Brockmeier, author of The Illumination and The Brief History of the Dead
“There is one thing you must know: the place where Brent Hendricks and I grew up was a land of ghosts, ghosts of an unspeakable past that was everywhere communicated by a flick of the hand, a turn of the eye, or a casual phrase. It was a place we learned to love and to hate, to defend and to fear, to celebrate and to deny. A Long Day at the End of the World is a note-perfect evocation of this strange haunted nature of the South. It's a stellar debut.” Peter L. Buck of R.E.M.
“Hendricks skillfully interweaves the true-crime shocks of the Ed Gein–like scene with thoughtful asides on everything from Southern Baptists to Hernando de Soto to alchemy. A unique and affecting wander through some unwelcoming places.” Daniel Kraus, Booklist
“Sharing many of the same qualities that made his first book of poems, Thaumatrope, a fascinating conceptual and narrative success, Hendricks's excellent nonfiction debut combines personal and psychological reflections to understand the largest mass desecration in modern American history.” Publishers Weekly
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Read an Excerpt
A Long Day at the End of the World
By Brent Hendricks
FSG OriginalsCopyright © 2013 Brent Hendricks
All right reserved.
I SNAPPED OFF THE CARDBOARD BACK of the wooden triangle and took it out. A slight musty smell rose from my hands, filled as they were with a thing that had been locked up for several years now. Dusty stars clung to my fingers while lines of color tumbled across the floor. Maybe you started with the stripes, I thought, kneeling down inside the four corners. Maybe it was mostly luck—luck and accumulation—like folding a map. Even halfway through I felt lucky, turning a quick corner into three points like a child making paper triangles. But reaching the end, I saw the same old picture again: my last rows twisted and dangling beneath a field of stars.
I wondered if I should try once more. Wasn’t it a matter of simple geometry—easy crease and tuck like the soldiers did on TV? Yet I had failed every time I had tried to fold it. Over and over, I’d felt compelled to correct the improperly shaped thing in its cheap display case, and over and over, my efforts had come to bad ends.
So I stuffed Old Glory back into its container, blue patch of stars jutting out unevenly against crooked stripes. I hoped the neighbors wouldn’t notice the flag case tucked beneath my arm, because I’d have to explain it. I’d have to say I was taking it—my father’s burial flag—on a little trip, that I was going to carry it with me through the back roads of Alabama on a kind of pilgrimage.
And of course I couldn’t stop there—on the loaded word “pilgrimage”—because they’d only want more. I’d have to say I was setting out on a trip through the low hills of northern Alabama, climbing Lookout Mountain, hoping to descend again into the valley: to the Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Georgia.
But my own bewilderment about the excursion itself, and about that flag, would prevent me from giving a practical description of what had happened at Tri-State. Instead, I’d probably head straight to the big trouble: I’d say, yes, astonishing as it may be, my father had died and his bones had been resurrected. And then those same bones, the bones of my father, had been abandoned at the Tri-State Crematory for five years. The man was dead, rose again, and dwelled among the other dead for a time.
Even in the South, such apocalyptic declarations might overwhelm my devout neighbors. But the story required no articles of faith. My father had died and I had gone to his funeral and he was buried in the ground. I saw him lowered into the red dirt. My father was dead and the doors of his grave flew open and he came again upon the earth.
I would have to tell all that to my neighbors because I didn’t know what else to say. I was setting off to unholy ground, to a field with a lake where hundreds of bodies once lay scattered and alone, hoping that something would happen. For a while I’d lived with an image of my father lying lost at the Tri-State Crematory, and I needed to change it. I needed to take a ride to Tri-State and see where he’d lain those long years. I needed to tell him goodbye, or hello and goodbye, or tell him nothing but that I had tried. I had tried to make amends for his troubled bones.
And I had that flag, wrapped up all crooked and wrong, to prove it.
Copyright © 2013 by Brent Hendricks
Excerpted from A Long Day at the End of the World by Brent Hendricks Copyright © 2013 by Brent Hendricks. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Brent Hendricks is a graduate of the University of Virginia, Harvard Law School, and the MFA program at the University of Arizona. He is the author of a book of poems, Thaumatrope, and has been published in such places as Poetry, Ploughshares, The Iowa Review, Conjunctions, The Southern Review, and Bomb magazine. He lives in Tucson, Arizona.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This profound book is a tale of a day trip and a story of a lifelong struggle to understand. The depth of feeling evident in this harrowing tale is astonishing. Although there are some passages that veer off into relatively strange territories, complete with intense and poetic stream-of-consciousness phrasing, the reader always knows the end will be definite and final. As in Life itself. And perhaps that, along with the quality of the Journey, is the point.