Review: Apparition and Late Fictions

Works Reviewed: Apparition and Late Fictions, Thomas Lynch. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010.

Thomas Lynch, known to the people of Milford, Michigan, as the senior undertaker at Lynch and Sons, and to the rest of us as a poet and essayist, tries his hand at fiction in his new book, Apparition and Late Fictions.

In his three books of non-fiction, Lynch mostly writes about how caring for the dead has helped him understand more about life. Even when he’s writing about Ireland, fishing, television, outhouses, or writer’s festivals, he’s somehow manages to talk about death and what it has to do with learning to live well.

His foray into fiction follows suit. There are 4 short stories and a novella here, and every one of them has something to do with dying. Each have their own main character who is struggling with thoughts of love, sex, family, and dying. Not all of them are as likable as Lynch himself, or at least the Lynch we know via his nonfiction. But even if they’re not entirely likeable, they’re very real. The first story, “Catch and Release,” about a fishing guide spreading his father’s ashes, is almost certainly inspired by Lynch’s own son, who is also a fishing guide. Adrian Littlefield, the failed priest turned self-help writer in the novella “Apparition” is a sad, needy character, familiar to us in his struggles and heartache if not in his outward failures. Littlefield is cared for in some unusual ways by his community, a kind of mixed up version of church. Martin, in the story “Bloodsport,” is the most lovable character in the book, the one I imagine most resembles the author himself.  Aisling, the middle-aged literature professor in “Matinee de Septembre,” is literally shocked to death by a vision of beauty.

My friend Darren sometimes complains that people are usually unwilling to let successful artists try something new because fans want more of what they already love. That’s sort of how I feel about this book. Lynch is certainly an incredible writer, and the characters in this book are all interesting and very real. But there doesn’t seem to be as much room for Lynch’s wise thoughts about love, loss, faith, life, and death as in his non-fiction. I don’t love these stories the way I love his other books.

Even so, he’s such a masterful writer that I’ll read anything he writes.


This review was originally published in Christian Week newspaper.