Macabre funeral scenes from literature as solace

Thanks for the condolences, everyone. Times like these, I like to soothe myself with the devout pessimist’s mantra: Things could always be worse.

To that end, I’m rereading As I Lay Dying. My father’s latest intrigue notwithstanding, at least Sister and I don’t have to help him forge a flooded river with our grandpa’s casket.

I don’t have much time before I fly out to Nashville for the service, so posting will be nonexistent — or limited to the sidebar — but a few readers sent in funereal literature recommendations, many of which I know and love, and will revisit. I’ll post a few highlights below.

Also, there’s my mini-interview with Kathleen Kent (The Heretic’s Daughter) if you missed it, or you can listen to William Faulkner read from As I Lay Dying, his self-proclaimed (and arguably actual) tour-de-force.

Hayden Childs, author of Shoot Out the Lights (yes, inspired by Richard & Linda Thompson), writes:

As far as funeral scenes go, Marvin Bell’s poem “Ending On a Line From Lear” just kills me every time. I don’t know if that’s what you need right now, though, so use sparingly. I know that when my brother died last year, it reduced me to a goddamn puddle for about a week. Hell, I’m getting teary right now just thinking about it. There’s also a few songs that leap to mind: Freakwater’s “Burying Geraldine,” which is, I think, about the funeral of a beloved grandparent, and a couple by the Silver Jews: “There Is A Place” and “Death of an Heir of Sorrows.”

Okay, iPhone locked and loaded. Poet Susan Ramsey mentions one she knows is an old favorite:

The Optimist’s Daughter! From Fay’s running entry to the realization that her relative’s children have picked every single Silver Bell, it’s the alchemy of the horrific into the hilarious. (And the post-mortem, as it were, of the occasion by Mama’s friends the next day is even smarter and funnier, a scene only a woman would have had the information to write.)

Blogger Levi Asher says:

I bet you already know this one, but Saul Bellow’s “Seize the Day” is some good (and cathartic,
and short) funeral literature. And when in Nashville, a visit to “the parthenon” in Centennial Park can offer a nice meditative escape…

Marco Romano recommends “Joyce’s ‘The Dead’ and the movie Death at a Funeral, Poe’s ‘The Premature Burial,’ ‘The Cask of Amontillado,’ ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ or most all of Poe’s stories.” And Troy Bowen writes:

First funeral scenes that come to mind are lofty ones… Ulysses & Beowulf. I think the Ulysses of Nashville is waiting to be written. But of course there’s also Emily Dickinson… ‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.'”

And finally, poet, writer, and critic Bezalel Stern makes me want to rush out and pick up one of the few Faulkner works I haven’t read yet.

As I lay Dying may contain Faulkner’s greatest funeral scene(s), but [I’m partial to] the funeral and unveiling of Eula Varner Snopes near the end of The Town, with Gavin Stevens (perhaps my favorite Faulkner character — ok, after Jason Compson) stoically pretending not to care when everyone knows his world is shattered.


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