For October’s book review we wanted to choose something on the dark side, and immediately thought of Marion Winik’s The Glen Rock Book of the Dead. This collection of nonfiction short stories serves as Winik’s autobiography as told through, as the back of the book describes it, “snapshot portraits of the departed.” Every ghost’s story is seemingly unrelated, save one common thread: Winik.
The author likens the writing process of this piece to the celebration and mourning of El Día de los Muertos, or The Day of the Dead. She says of the process, “For the next few months, I got up as close to dawn as I could. Already they would be waiting in my head. I’d let one into my office for a few hours and we’d have our little séance.” She goes on to say, “This never seemed morbid or depressing to me. I have lost too many people, I think, to make talking and thinking about them an unpleasant thing to do. My life has been shaped as much by people who are no longer living as by people who are, and perhaps this has been particularly true since I moved, in middle age, to Glen Rock, a quiet place. Writing this book has been a chance to hang out with my friends.”
The stories are interesting, but the most seductive part about the book is the writing. A few lines that we loved in particular are on page 28, where she says, “Even as a little girl I noticed how he started to talk just the way my father did and use his expressions and write in all capital letters and how he loved to say my father’s name, and later he had the businesses, and the busyness, the two daughters and the fond, gruff impatience, the fine house and the fancy car, and then he died just as young in just the same way, from the heart.”
Winik’s use of alliteration and rhyme throughout the piece elevate even the most mundane details. Everything sounds beautiful and enchanting, with a sprinkle of realism. This account of her life is incredibly vulnerable as she explores the most devastating losses of her life. No matter how heavy the subject matter, however, she is able to stay unemotional. The passages have feeling without being overly poetic, and her humor is the guiding light.
Because of the short story structure, Glen Rock is broken up into manageable chunks, and the perfect choice for a quick read or a nightly bedtime story. Whether you read this in honor of All Hallow’s Eve, The Day of the Dead or none of the above, you’ll find strange comfort in this work of nonfiction. It is the perfect reminder that though loved ones, acquaintances may be gone, their presence is still heavy in the air and in our lives.