The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death

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Overview

What is death and how does it touch upon life? Twenty writers look for answers.
Birth is not inevitable. Life certainly isn't. The sole inevitability of existence, the only sure consequence of being alive, is death. In these eloquent and surprising essays, twenty writers face this fact, among them Geoff Dyer, who describes the ghost bikes memorializing those who die in biking accidents; Jonathan Safran Foer, proposing a new way of punctuating dialogue in the face of a family ...

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Overview

What is death and how does it touch upon life? Twenty writers look for answers.
Birth is not inevitable. Life certainly isn't. The sole inevitability of existence, the only sure consequence of being alive, is death. In these eloquent and surprising essays, twenty writers face this fact, among them Geoff Dyer, who describes the ghost bikes memorializing those who die in biking accidents; Jonathan Safran Foer, proposing a new way of punctuating dialogue in the face of a family history of heart attacks and decimation by the Holocaust; Mark Doty, whose reflections on the art-porn movie Bijou lead to a meditation on the intersection of sex and death epitomized by the AIDS epidemic; and Joyce Carol Oates, who writes about the loss of her husband and faces her own mortality. Other contributors include Annie Dillard, Diane Ackerman, Peter Straub, and Brenda Hillman.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
When editors Shields (The Thing About Life Is One Day You'll Be Dead) and Morrow (The Diviner's Tale) approached 20 writers with the idea for this anthology, their requirements were simple: address the subject of death and "speak about the unspeakable." What resulted is a collection of extraordinary essays ranging from the life cycles of flies to reflections on a '70s-era porn film, the "romance of old cemeteries," and "ghost bikes" as memorials to traffic victims. In one essay, Diane Ackerman (Dawn Light) describes "the sudden monstrous subtraction" she felt on learning of a close friend's death. Sallie Tisdale (Women of the Way: Discovering 2,500 Years of Buddhist Wisdom) points out, "It is our peculiar punishment that we know things change and we want this to be otherwise." Often poetic and at times funny or gruesome while exposing raw grief, the writers--Mark Doty, Jonathan Safran, Geoff Dyer, Annie Dillard, to name a few--tackle the subject of death with honesty and courage. (Feb.)
Seattle Times
[A] diversity of views, yet a consistently high level of thought. Their eloquent introduction sets up these pieces, several of them previously published. Suffusing the collection as a whole is the humility expressed by Lynne Tillman at the end of her essay: "Of death, mortals are absolutely ignorant. The dead, fortunately, are beyond caring." Ultimately, these readings may bring the reader some comfort to realize, perhaps again,
that we are all in this together.— Alan Moores
Alan Moores - Seattle Times
“[A] diversity of views, yet a consistently high level of thought. Their eloquent introduction sets up these pieces, several of them previously published. Suffusing the collection as a whole is the humility expressed by Lynne
Tillman at the end of her essay: "Of death, mortals are absolutely ignorant. The dead, fortunately, are beyond caring." Ultimately, these readings may bring the reader some comfort to realize, perhaps again,
that we are all in this together.”
Library Journal
Editors Shields (The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead) and Morrow (editor, Conjunctions; The Diviner's Tale) recruited 20 writers—from the well known, e.g., Peter Straub, Joyce Carol Oates, Annie Dillard, and Diane Ackerman, to the less familiar—to contribute these diverse essays on death. The essays consider death in its various forms and explore the diverse human emotions elicited when confronted with its reality. Ultimately, through these poignant, heartfelt essays, readers will gain a refreshed understanding of helping loved ones as they pass on as well as of what it means to be alive. These seriously considered, highly literate analyses don't necessarily guarantee some sort of passageway to eternal peace or its opposite. In other words, they raise the bar for more philosophical readers searching for alternatives to age-old traditions perpetuated in religious dogma. Curiously, the editors do not explain the criteria they used in selecting the writers. VERDICT This impressive anthology of theme-based literary nonfiction is recommended to lay readers interested in various philosophical perspectives on death, and it will help professionals who work with dying patients and their families.—Dale Farris, Groves, TX
Kirkus Reviews

Twenty writers discuss what the inevitability of death means to them.

Editors Shields (Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, 2010, etc.) and Morrow (Ariel's Crossing, 2002, etc.) elicit a wide-ranging variety of responses to their request to "speak the unspeakable, envision the unseeable." In the intensely personal "The Siege," Joyce Carol Oates vividly describes her grief after her husband's death, while Annie Dillard's "This is the Life" is more philosophical. She writes that whatever our culture tells us about how to live our lives, the fundamentals remain the same: "You have seen an ordinary bit of what is real, the infinite fabric of time that eternity shoots through, and time's soft-skinned people working and dying under slowly shifting stars. Then what?" In "Bayham Street," Robert Clark interweaves his unsuccessful efforts to learn more about the life of a sister he barely knew with his exploration of past historical and cultural events during a trip to Europe. "A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease" is Jonathan Safran Foer's humorous account of how his family uses pregnant pauses to slide over serious issues, including his father's heart condition, uncomfortable questions about girlfriends, painful memories, etc. Though most of this collection's essays are impressive, Sallie Tisdale's piece,"The Sutra of Maggots and Blowflies,"is a standout. In it, the author finds beauty in the way that maggots and blowflies are part of the cycle of birth, death and the re-creation of life by feeding on decomposed matter: "a piece from here and a fleck from there, a taste of this karma, a speck of that memory, this carbon atom, that bit of water, a little protein, a pinch of pain: until a new body and a new life is made from pieces of the past. The wee bit they claim, can you begrudge it? Dissolved, our flesh is their water, and they lap us up."Other contributors include Mark Doty, Geoff Dyer, Peter Straub, Terry Castle and Diane Ackerman.

A wonderfully speculative patchwork quilt on the meaning of life and death.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393339369
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 2/21/2011
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 1,394,580
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Bradford Morrow's novels include The Diviner’s Tale, Giovanni's Gift, and Trinity Fields, and co-edited with David Shields The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death. The recipient of numerous awards, he founded and edits the literary journal Conjunctions and is a professor of literature at Bard College. He lives in New York City.

David Shields, the author of Reality Hunger, is the Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington.

Bradford Morrow's novels include The Diviner’s Tale, Giovanni's Gift, and Trinity Fields, and co-edited with David Shields The Inevitable: Contemporary Writers Confront Death. The recipient of numerous awards, he founded and edits the literary journal Conjunctions and is a professor of literature at Bard College. He lives in New York City.

David Shields, the author of Reality Hunger, is the Milliman Distinguished Writer-in-Residence at the University of Washington.

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