As a writer, I’m only anything if observant. And yet I have frightening blind spots. Despite the low square footage of my Harlem apartment, too often I can’t find things in it. Clothes, shoes, the remote. Even the can opener, which has only one place of keeping, the utensils drawer, which I search through and swear doesn’t contain the utensil it inevitably must. On the other hand, things I can find easily — and know I can find easily — I waste my time finding (my wallet, keys, and phone), a vestige of my childhood compulsions.
Such as knowing the location of my security animals. As a child I had a stuffed Tigger which I brought on sleepovers and errands with my mother. Around the third grade I added a rhinoceros named Rhino.
David Giffels, in contrast, began his path toward building his coffin in a moment of mordant marital banter. He was accompanying his wife, Gina, to a mortuary to select a coffin for her newly deceased father. Offended at the four-figure cost for most models, Giffels laid his frugal, flippant eyes on a cardboard model costing $75.“There it is,” he tells Gina. “That’s what I want to be buried in.”
To which she shoots back, “Absolutely not happening.”
It turns out that the cardboard box is only used for bodies being transported to the crematorium, so Giffels has to amend his plan, and to take it more seriously. Nearing 50, he enlists his 81-year-old father, Thomas, a gifted and compulsive woodworker, to join him in designing and constructing a coffin.
It is natural to want to read into the unexplainable and search for forces greater than ourselves — and yet, the more we want to believe, the more we need to enlist scientific inquiry on our side. Don’t dismiss outright stories that defy regular explanations, Shermer urges. Rather, “Embrace the mystery. What we do not need to do is fill in the explanatory gaps with gods or any such preternatural forces. We can’t explain everything, and it’s always O.K. to say ‘I don’t know’ and leave it at that until a natural explanation presents itself,” he writes.
War is strangely quiet in Sri Lankan writer Anuk Arudpragasm’s debut novel, The Story of a Brief Marriage. The titular brevity refers to the novel’s running time, which takes place over the course of a single day, but the story and its scope are anything but perfunctory.
I had grown, which was one of the only things I knew for certain about myself in the years since returning to Revere — but how I had grown, I was far less sure. As pretty as I had been the first time, it was a prettiness that belonged squarely to my twenties and was gone before I knew to mourn it. My body had dealt with the consequences of cancer and misery; every year I was streaked by new stretch marks; my weight was never consistent for long; but it was my face that had really changed, and yet it had never crossed my mind that Eleanna wouldn’t recognize me. Rather, I had only wondered if that face would still provoke feelings in her.
I was thinking about that, and variations on that theme, during the flight to Albany and on the shuttle to the college town where I was to give a keynote and where Eleanna would be on a panel about, as I had learned from the Revere Book Festival website, Loss and Grief in Memoir. The festival was in October, the same month that Eleanna’s memoir — Night’s End — had come out, with the publication date only a few days before. I’d schemed to receive a galley, and even though I sped through the book, reading the entire thing the day it arrived, certain images still bled into my dreams: not images from her grief, mind you, but images from her marriage, the tenderness of it.