Being Dead During the Philly Rock and Roll Half Marathon

Ok, I’m officially catching up a bit on back posts. Somehow both husband and child are in bed and sleeping before 11 pm. I finally have time to think and type without interruption! Before I get on with my review of Being Dead, I have to give a mildly humorous bit of context. I downloaded this because I was looking for something short and interesting to listen to during my half marathon last weekend. There is a way to search for award winners on Audible, and so I browsed through those, and discovered this book, which I’d never heard of, by an author I’d never heard of. But it won the National Book Critics Circle Award a few years ago, so I figured it was worth a try. I was staying in a hotel with friends before the race, and we woke to a roommate’s phone alarm: a loud rendition of the song “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!” I wasn’t sure what to make of a combining a book entitled Being Dead with that wake up theme and 13.1 miles of racing. I hoped it wasn’t all some scary combined omen. The good news is that it wasn’t. I survived the race just fine–and I guess the song was right, I’m now also stronger. The book ended just in time for me to round the final curve and go up the last bit of hill to the finish line at the Philly Museum of Art (picture Rocky). I’d enjoyed the race and the book, which I definitely recommend. It’s quick and quirky, and if you like audio, this is a well-narrated audiobook.

Here is my review from Goodreads: Being DeadBeing Dead by Jim Crace
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Joseph’s grasp on Celice’s leg had weakened as he’d died, but still his hand was touching her, the grainy pastels of her skin, one fingertip among her baby ankle hairs. Their bodies had expired, but anyone could tell, just look at them, that Joseph and Celice were still devoted. For while his hand was touching her, curved round her shin, the couple seemed to have achieved that peace the world denies, a period of grace defying even murder. Anyone who found them there, so wickedly disfigured, would nevertheless be bound to see that something of their love had survived the death of cells. The corpses were surrendered to the weather and the earth, but here were still a man and wife, quietly resting, flesh on flesh, dead, but not departed yet. It was as if they had been struck by lightning, but the thunder, separated from its faster twin, had yet to come, with its complaints, to shake and terminate the bodies lying in the grass. Time was divided into light and sound. There was a sanctuary for Joseph and Celice between the lightning and the thunderclap. Such were their six days in the dunes, stretched out, these two unlucky lovers on the coast. This is our only prayer: may no one come to lift his hand from her leg. Let thunder never find its voice. Hold sound and light, those battling twins, apart. There is a meadow that separates death’s chilly gate and the tumbling nothingness beyond in which our Joseph and Celice are lying, cushioned by the sunlight and the grass, and held in place by nothing firmer than his fingertip. (I have the audio of this, so I am guessing on the punctuation here.)

Being Dead is a fascinating book. Jim Crace takes the murder of a middle-aged couple, both zoologists, and uses the incident to explore the biology of death and decomposition, the nature of love, courtship, and family relationships, the aging process, and facets of guilt and responsibility. The narrative of this tale at the seacoast is very like the motion of the water in the nearby sea–moving toward the coast and away again, sometimes with currents crossing. The tale moves both forward and backward from the moment of the murder, but also forward from the time the couple first met. It flows between the narratives of their courtship, of the events on the day of the murder, of the gradual realization by others that they are missing and the resulting search, and of what happens on the beach to the couple as their bodies lie awaiting discovery and burial. The language is both detailed and beautiful, the relationships and personalities complex, but also unremarkable. The book, despite the interwoven narratives, is smooth and cleanly constructed. This book is not about what happens–it’s not particularly plot or action driven–it is about what is, who we are, how we connect or fail to, what we become.

Definitely glad to have happened on this in my search for a relatively short but high-quality novel available in audio! It deserved the National Book Critics Circle Award that it won.

View all my reviews

About Beth Parks Aronson

I am Associate Professor of Psychology at Lamar University. Previously, I was a psychologist in private practice in Jenkintown, PA where I specialized in anxiety disorders and working with people living with chronic and life-threatening illnesses. I am a little addicted to good literature. Ok, a lot addicted.
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