The Undertaking (Paperback)

Life Studies from the Dismal Trade

By Thomas Lynch

W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393334876, 224pp.

Publication Date: June 22, 2009

Other Editions of This Title:
Hardcover (7/17/1997)
Paperback (8/1/1998)
Paperback (4/1/1998)

List Price: 15.95*
* Individual store prices may vary.


A National Book Award Finalist: "One of the most life-affirming books I have read in a long time…brims with humanity, irreverence, and invigorating candor." —Tom Vanderbilt, The Nation

"Every year I bury a couple hundred of my townspeople." So opens this singular and wise testimony. Like all poets, inspired by death, Thomas Lynch is, unlike others, also hired to bury the dead or to cremate them and to tend to their families in a small Michigan town where he serves as the funeral director.

In the conduct of these duties he has kept his eyes open, his ear tuned to the indispensable vernaculars of love and grief. In these twelve pieces his is the voice of both witness and functionary. Here, Lynch, poet to the dying, names the hurts and whispers the condolences and shapes the questions posed by this familiar mystery. So here is homage to parents who have died and to children who shouldn't have. Here are golfers tripping over grave markers, gourmands and hypochondriacs, lovers and suicides. These are the lessons for life our mortality teaches us.

About the Author

Thomas Lynch has authored five collections of poetry, one of stories, and four books of essays. His first, The Undertaking, won the Heartland Prize for Non-Fiction and the American Book Award, and was a finalist for the National Book Award. His writing has appeared in the Atlantic, Granta, Harper’s Magazine, and the New York Times, among other publications. He works as a funeral director in Milford, Michigan, and teaches at the Bear River Writer’s Conference.

Praise For The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade

A startling and eloquent meditation on death and bereavement…If you think this book isn't about you, or for you, think again.

A memoir that is stand-out superb.

Mr. Lynch emerges as a cross between Garrison Keillor and one of the Irish poets; one thinks of William Butler Yeats…Forceful, authentic, and full of a kind of ethical and aesthetic clarity.
— Richard Bernstein

[Lynch] is able to take us inside the palpable business of blood, tears, and the final verse of life in a manner that is almost shocking in the relief it delivers…[A] fine, sensible, and wise book.

Lynch’s vivid prose has the electricity of writing that tells us what is going on in the secret places of the community—and the secret places of the heart.