Follow my blog on Bloglovin

Friday, December 15, 2017

Raising the Dead in 2017

I have been spending a lot of time in cemeteries recently.  Not only did I visit my local favorite, Glenwood Cemetery, several times in the last couple of months, but three of my favorite books in 2017 led me along the paths of graveyards and the undead. The novels were not in the horror genre either. All three books are outstanding fiction and truly some of the best I read this year.

The first of my cemetery books in 2017 was  Lincoln in the Bardo, the first novel by the acclaimed short story and essay writer George Saunders. Called experimental fiction, the book patches together historical truths about the death of Abraham Lincoln's young son, Willie, with a lively chorus of voices of the dead from many different time periods and backgrounds. The book is original and inspiring and completely takes place in a graveyard.

Next was The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman which I read last summer and reviewed here. The living boy Bod is raised in a cemetery by the kindly ghosts who are protecting him from the bad man who killed his family and is trying to murder him as well.  Gaiman weaves an unforgettable tale set guessed it...a graveyard.

Then this fall, I read and loved Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, who I wrote about in this blog post.  As my current favorite Mississippi writer, I read the novel immediately upon its publication this fall. She won her second National book Award for this book. Her first was for Salvage the Bones. Ward had a big year because she also won a MacArthur Genius Grant! But Sing, Unburied Sing happens to also be about ghosts or the unburied, as the title suggests.  The novel tells the story of Jojo, a 13-year-old boy learning what it means to be a man in rural Mississippi. The book is heart wrenching in the details of the struggles of this poor, black family. The ghost in this book is also a 13-year-old boy who carries all the sadness and hurt of the past generations of black men in Mississippi.

It wasn't until I was wandering through Glenwood Cemetery preparing for a workshop for teachers that I will be leading in the new year, that I noticed this theme in my reading. At Glenwood, the dead are very much present. As Jojo's dying grandma says in Sing, "...That don't mean I won't be here, Jojo. I'll be on the other side of the door. With everybody else that's gone before." She continues, "Because we don't walk no straight lines. It's all happening at once. All of it. We all here at once."  The living and the dead co-exist in all three of these novels, as well as Glenwood, a park-like cemetery, where I often go to write. That veil between the living and the dead feels very thin in cemeteries and in these three novels.

No comments:

Post a Comment