The Glen Rock Book of the Dead

"I miss him more, not less, as time goes by." ("The Carpenter", p. 18)

The Glen Rock Book of the Dead, a collection of mini essays by Marion Winik, is a gathering of souls. The essays are snippets of 50 lives that have crossed paths with the author in connection to her life in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania, the year of their death in the subtitle of each story. Back when we were in the midst of the early days of the pandemic, I had the pleasure of taking an online memoir class with Jamie Passaro who recommended this stunning book. 

I initially started reading this in an e-book format and then found a paperback copy in a quaint little bookstore that smelled of musty books and coffee. Tracing the title on the stack felt like running into an old friend. I like the tiny illustrations on top of the title of each story, featuring some small element in relation to each piece. I normally don't pay much attention to book covers, but this one has a lovely image of a wallpapered wall with framed photographs and a wilted rose bouquet in the right corner. It immortalizes the people in the photos, even though we don't know who they are. 

My favorite essay is "The House," the pink cottage in New Orleans that drowned in Hurricane Katrina. Winik personifies it beautifully, making the piece read like an obituary of a home that was once sanctuary to a family. She compares the house to a "shipwrecked galleon", underwater, where handbag straps twist "like seaweed around the legs of chairs" (p. 94). I love how Winik commemorates the house and all the treasures that made it a home to someone. This is the most unique essay in the collection in that it is in memory of a non-living thing. 

What struck me the most is how the essays are tied together, how they sit in the far corners of the rooms in the back of your brain you keep under lock. They speak to each other without knowing it, developing a secret language of tapping at the walls. A twelve-year-old girl ages to 112 the moment she witnesses her father's life cut short in a motorcycle accident (p. 64), and an old woman with Alzheimer's drifts away, death "determined not just to take [her] but erase [her] altogether" (p. 60). These essays are obituaries of the family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers whose memories pick at the locks in the depths of our brains, waiting to be opened. 

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