Friday, December 13, 2013

Being Dead

Being Dead, Jim Crace
Read: 24 March 2009
4 / 5 stars  

This is such a gracefully, unflinchingly graphic tale following two main paths. The death of a middle-aged married couple -- which is told initially in reverse from the moment of their murder before it hurtles through the present, detailing the bodies' six days of exposure, discovery, and clinically detached removal and processing (which plays well against their ever-evolving daughter's reactions) -- collides with the simultaneously celebratory and tragic story of how the two first met.

The character development is mostly approached in retrospect and makes for one of the richest cast of literary players I've seen in a while. Celice's awkward and naively confident blossoming into a ripe young lady clashes well with the more reserved woman she became in her 50s, admitting that she has never been fully satisfied in her marriage; the small gestures of touching affection she allows her husband, however, speak volumes about her capacity for love. Joseph's nearly 30 years of tender loyalty -- from the first gesture of shyly calculated courtship to his dying show of devotion -- contrasts achingly with his initial coldness. It is through their conflicted daughter, who adds just enough raw humanity to the present after the two bodies have been discovered, that their presence lingers palpably on.

Mr. Crace's gift for both language and storytelling added to the morbidly voyeuristic pleasure of this book. As bleak as the story is, it does capture the beauty of a love that has had decades of lessons in learning how to suit both partners. The small splashes of careful detail, the finely constructed pace at which the plot unravels and spins, the stunning language.... it all made for a delightfully jarring contrast to the perceptively ugly (though wholly natural and inevitable) act of dying.
At 196 pages, it almost seems natural to say that I could have happily lapped up 100 more (this is the first time since reading The Gunslinger that I've started and finished a book on the same day), especially since the pacing of the plot and progression of the story makes the short novel so wonderfully compelling.
When the book comes to a close with Celice and Joseph's killer nowhere to be found, it's really not that important. Closure isn't the aim of the narrative because this book isn't about solving a murder: It's about the six days of "grace" that Celice and Joseph's bodies spend together as nature goes to work indiscriminately returning two dead things to the earth and its elements.

1 comment:

  1. This was the first Crace novel I had ever read, and I really enjoyed it - as much as you can enjoy a tale about two dead bodies rotting away...!