There are reminders everywhere that we—and everyone we love—will die. In this memoir-in-essays, Sarah K. Lenz explores moments when death drew near. She deftly weaves stories from a chorus of voices foretelling mortality: "Here's where I want you to spread my ashes when I die.” “There’s been a fire. I couldn’t see who the EMTs loaded into the ambulance.” “Your three great uncles were killed by the same strike of lightning.” “You have a carcinoma. I’m sorry, it’s not what we were expecting.” “The police just shot and killed that man. Look, there’s a bullet hole in your car.”
These moments--though scary--also reveal the sublime, calling us to see how beauty everywhere. Lenz shows her reader that gratitude and redemption exist in painful places, our legacies form from unlikely fragments, and that love, being ever tangled up with loss, outlasts most things.
In her debut essay collection, Lenz takes on a wide-range of topics with clarity and grace. From the discovery of a post-mortem photograph of her great-uncles who were killed by lightning to the quotidian pancake-making days with her preschooler son during the COVID-19 pandemic, Lenz confronts the complexities of being sandwiched between aging parents and a young child, while also navigating her own thyroid cancer diagnosis.
In the midst of this, she finds herself comforting her father, who’s fixated with where to spread his ashes (“Driving the Section Line”) and, while suffering postpartum depression, imagining all the ways her baby can die (“So Many Ways”). Though dark in subject matter, Lenz finds beauty, warmth, and wisdom is the telling of these haunting moments in her life. The narrative is buoyed by breathtaking honesty—and a bit of the grotesque–like a misguided attempt to cook a whole hog’s head from her beloved, late grandmother’s recipe.
This book is a moving, heartfelt meditation on how to face mortality, how to grieve, but most importantly, how to awaken to the ephemeral beauty of the world. This book is a powerful reminder of all that will outlast us and what’s found in those we love.
Sarah K. Lenz is the author of the essay collection, What Will Outlast Me? (Unsolicited Press, 2023). Her creative nonfiction has appeared in Colorado Review, New Letters, Triquarterly, and elsewhere. Her work has been named Notable in Best American Essays three times. Sarah is an Assistant Professor of English at Del Mar College in Texas.
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