Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Death Class: A True Story about Life by Erika Hayasaki

4. A Book with Antonyms in the Title

So I found this book while reading book number one on my list.  Erika Hayasaki wrote a review for Smoke Gets In Your Eyes and that led me to her book. So a little oddly, 2015 has started off with two reads about Death and Dying. 

The Death Class covers about 4 years in the history of a college course on death and dying (with a three year waitlist) taught by an interesting women, nurse, professor named Norma Bowles.  The story of the class was the meta story and within that story were several individual stories of students who came to her class to talk and sort out their own issues with death. The overarching story over the entire four year class story was also the journalist's story of her experience with death, starting in Seattle when she was 16. So it was really stories within a story within another story.

So while the set up and framing device seemed rather odd and clunky, the stories within were compelling. The stories of the students and Norma herself illustrated the point of the class--the class itself became more of a foot note. Each chapter began with one of Norma's writing assignments: write your obituary, write a letter to someone you need to say good-bye to, write your bucket list. Some of the assignments were completed by various students in the class, others were blank. 

Exploring death feels important and necessary.  Death surrounds us in very calm, normal, age appropriate ways, and it also comes at us in tragic,  violent, unexpected ways. Ms Hayasaki is a narrative journalist, and is very adept at telling the stories. The poetic story of death: why it is necessary for us to confront it and talk about it and sit among the gravestones will be saved for the poets to write. This book doesn't truly put its fingers around the content of the class--it tells us more the people and how they come to the class wanting to understand the subject,   Thats okay for now. The subject is broad and vast and we readers know we can take our time exploring all kinds of entries into the literature of death.  This one is valuable entry on its own.

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