Lying in the sand dunes of Baritone Bay are the bodies of a middle-aged couple. Celice and Joseph, in their mid-50s and married for more than 30 years, are returning to the seacoast where they met as students. Instead, they are battered to death by a thief with a chunk of granite. Their corpses lie undiscovered and rotting for a week, prey to sand crabs, flies, and gulls. Yet there remains something touching about the scene, with Joseph’s hand curving lightly around his wife’s leg, “quietly resting; flesh on flesh; dead, but not departed yet.”
From that moment forward, Being Dead becomes less about murder and more about death. Alternating chapters move back in time from the murder in hourly and two-hourly increments. As the narrative moves backward, we see Celice and Joseph make the small decisions about their day that will lead them inexorably towards their own deaths. In other chapters the narrative moves forward. Celice and Joseph are on vacation and nobody misses them until they do not return. Thus, it is six days before their bodies are found. Crace describes in minute detail their gradual return to the land with the help of crabs, birds, and the numerous insects that attack the body and gently and not so gently prepare it for the dust-to-dust phase of death.
I. Loved. This. Book!
Easily a top favorite. I noticed many reviews complain about there not being enough character build, and there wasn’t, but it was perfect in its illumination on just how nihilistic and mundane life is in an unforgiving universe that experiences all life and death. It’s just that, the blink of an eye, another insignificant existence come and gone. Everything we think, everything we feel, our sorrows and our joys all borne away on the sands of time. Only to be here to replicate and decompose, we attempt to give life meaning where there is none and yet there is so much comfort in those hard truths.
Crace describes in the most elegant, gruesome and matter of fact way the process of death, and it is breathtaking in its callous beauty. I’ve never read a book that was so dreary, yet so hard to put down. He is a painter of words.
“Even stars must decompose, disrupt and blister on the sky. Everything was born to go. The universe has learned to cope with death.”
Everything is born to die, and that’s what makes nature thrive.
Also, this alone was worth reading the book. lol!