Monday, November 14, 2011

Death in Literature (In Memoriam)

(In memory of my "Poppy", who passed away yesterday. Hope heaven handed you a cigar and a can of beer when you arrived! )

Losing a loved one is never an easy thing. No matter how long their life, no matter how full, no matter how much time you had with them ... dealing with death is an extremely painful and private thing. Yet the grieving process tends to be an incredibly public event.

As I sit here, dealing with my own emotions today, I started thinking back on all of the books I have read over the years that dealt with death, in one form or another. The different point of views, the different questions they posed, the different takes on what happens afterwards... The personal pain and suffering made public by the authors who have experienced it. Whether they envelope it in fiction or bare it all in memoir, their books not only helped them deal with death, but have also created an outlet by which others can deal with their own.

And so my Death in Literature list was born:

In Which the Character(s) Start to Lose It
Postcards From a Dead Girl - His dead mother speaks to him from a 1967 bottle of wine and his dead girlfriend is sending him postcards from exotic locations. Yeaaaah.. he's losing it!

Drinking Closer to Home - Dealing with a dying parent can sometimes bring out the worst in people. A dysfunctional family who share hilariously twisted memories while dealing with the pain of watching their mother pass.

Getting Over It - A young twenty-something initially thinks nothing of the death of her father, but slowly, steadily finds herself losing it as everything around her begins to fall apart.

The Death Bed Vigil
I Curse the River of Time - An amazing novel about a son's struggle to deal with the feelings of frustration and helplessness as his mother announces she has terminal cancer.

Tinkers - Aware that people are visiting him but unable to recall their names, this is the story of one man's journey into his own memories as he lies on his death bed.

Us - A husband's bedside vigil as he begs for more time with his wife. A heartbreaking look at saying goodbye that reminds you to appreciate those you have, because you never do know how long they will be around.

My Father's House - His father is dying of cancer and he is out banging old high school girlfriends, hanging at the bar, and killing time with the old man. Only it's much sadder and incredibly more raw than that.

Death Knocked and Left Me Here 
The Dead Father's Club - Narrated by an eleven year old boy whose father's ghost is haunting him, begging him to revenge his murder. A modern spin on the classic Hamlet that tugs at your heart strings.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Prepare for some seriously heavy boots. Narrated by a young boy who lost his father during 911, this incredible book follows Oskar as he travels all over NYC trying to uncover the truth about his father and find the lock that his father's mysterious key must open.

As I Lay Dying -  The story of a family, told by multiple members, as they prepare for their mother's death and burial. 

The Great Unknown
Death of an Ordinary Man - A man awakens only to realize that he is dead. Convinced he was murdered, he struggles to find his way back to his family in an attempt to remember what happened. A really interesting take on what happens to our souls once we die.

The Brief History of the Dead - A pretty cool idea if you ask me - a city inhabited by dead souls who are remembered by the living. But once the last living person with their memory dies, poof, the dead soul disappears, cautioning us to always remember those who passed before us.

Being Dead - At times quite graphic, this is the story of an older married couple who were murdered and left on the beach to rot. With the aid of flashbacks, we are slowly brought up to speed on how these two ended up in this horrible predicament, while also describing the things that are happening to their current bodies.

What death-related books have you read that left a lasting impression on you? Which novels have helped you deal with the passing of a loved one? Feel free to share here, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of the books I have listed above. Thanks for humoring me. (I promise we will return to our normally much-less-mopey and introverted selves tomorrow!)


  1. First off, I'm terribly sorry for your loss. Losing a loved one is incredibly tough.

    Second, that's a great list. I'd second many of those, with a huge endorsement of As I Lay Dying, and I'll add one that's on my mind today: Fathers and Sons, by Ivan Turgenev.

    I posted about that book for another reason entirely today at, but just realized the closing passages are a poignant reflection on the death of a child. You can read those passages for free at Google Books.

  2. Sorry to hear of your Poppy's passing--a sad time for you. I can't think of a story about loss, just some of my own losses.