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This review is taken from PN Review 119, Volume 24 Number 3, January - February 1998.

MAN IN BLACK THOMAS LYNCH, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade (Cape) £9.99

About 100,000 years ago the fossil record shows our ancestors started tucking their dead under the topsoil. Over a somewhat shorter time, but long enough to identify the four horsemen as Stroke, Coronary Occlusion, Alzheimer's and the Big C, Lynch & Sons have been keeping the tradition going, the American way. The Milford, Michigan end of things is handled by Thomas Lynch, undertaker and poet (Grimalkin and Other Poems, 1995). He does the works - embalming, casketing, flowerarranging. If he hasn't got the box you want, his brother Tim, working in the next town, can probably supply it. Spontaneous combustion can be arranged too, for those few Americans who prefer the method of disposal overwhelmingly preselected in Britain, though few apparently do. Lynch has his views about why this should be so, much as he has powerful and persuasive views about why we shirk from our own undertakings as never before in human history. It might appeal to some to have flayed cows' heads in formalin looming over them (courtesy of Damien Hirst) while they eat in Soho restaurants, but it would be hard to deny that death as an event is pretty much an absent reality for the late-twentieth century consciousness; and it can only be wondered what Dr Freud would have made of the way we have both skewed and bolstered the sex/death equation: obscenity is a more literal-minded word than it used to be.

Indeed, if humankind can be roughly divided, as Miroslav Holub ...

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