Saturday, October 08, 2005

Obituary Fabrication

Recommended reading for those correspondents intrigued by 'citizen-composed' obituaries: A Few Corrections by Brad Leithauser (Alfred A. Knopf 2001).

In Leithauser’s novel, the Oracle (an American newspaper of the author's invention) has printed an obituary written by the sister (actually, though she will not admit it, half-sister) of the deceased central character. Throughout his life, her half-brother had been a serial deceiver. His obituary, composed so that it avoids family embarrassment and maintains the myths, has the effect of enshrining a fabricated history.

Each chapter of A Few Corrections begins with progressive emendation of what the Oracle has published, so that by Chapter Thirteen the text is dominated by the editor's symbols and handwritten changes.

Sellers linked to amazon.com are advising its availability for prices ($0.01, in one instance) which do not reflect the quality of the writing.

9 comments:

McKie said...
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McKie said...
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McKie said...

this book sounds terrific. I have long wanted to write a do-it-yourself instruction kit for the self-adjusting, all-singng-all-dancing obit on the masssingberd model. but the trouble is that no one would follow it precisely enough. & it's all in the feel of it, as you know. but how do you teach touch? that's the bugger. of course it could be done, but it involves learning so many other things: basic pronounciation, grammar, literary references, &c &c. A good obits writer could earn three times as much were she, or he, a chief sub.
I don't want to use anyone who isn't miles better than everyone else's chief sub (vide any newspaper any day).
the very gifted might learn on a desk in a week or two how to be ok; they'd be fine in three months. anyone well qualified is a nightmare, because he or she already thinks himself good. worse, almost, than beginners. I go down on my knees in gratitude for my people (so much cleverer and more diligent than I am), and even they frustrate me with their ignorance (as I'm sure I do them). what is to be done?

McKie said...

I seem not to know how to post. Ignore version (i) and one of either (ii) or (iii), which are identical. I'm coming to grips with this stuff, but it takes time.
andrew

Alana Baranick said...

i loved "a few corrections." it makes you wonder how much fabrication exists in family-placed obits.

at least, the deceased in leithauser's book lived up to the first rule of obit writing. rule #1: make sure they're dead.

Alana Baranick said...

by the way, andrew. i've deleted two of your three identical postings, but i left your confession of being blog-challenged, so nobody would think i was arbitrarily deleting your deep thoughts.

i guess you could say i was making "a few corrections."

McKie said...

thank you, alana. I'm working on it

Claire Martin said...

Dang. I thought maybe we were attracting some real controversy until I read Alana's explanation.

BTW, another cautionary note: A former Denver Post reporter died yesterday when a tree branch snapped off and hit her. (This followed a heavy early snowstorm.) The obit part of the news story was straightforward except for her age. She routinely subtracted at least 4 years even on legal paperwork, so we had to explain that though she was in fact 73 (she didn't manage to alter her birth certificate), official documents listed her as as a youthful 69.

Alana Baranick said...

for those who haven't read the denver post story about the former reporter, who was felled by a snow-laden tree branch, here's the link: www.denverpost.com/news/ci_3104766

nice job working the age thingy into the story, claire.