How to Dispose of a Novelist’s Body

A prelude, a reflection, and a quote. A longish quote, but it’ll all come together, I hope.

There are many ways to dispose of dead bodies.
You can dry them out or bury them.
You can cremate them and sprinkle a tiny patch of the world with dust:
An ocean, a mountain ridge, or a bank by the woods.
You can plop them in a hole under a tree, as the Swedes do.
It’s called Promession, an eco-friendly burial.
Look for them under your boot-soles, says W. You just might find them there.
You can donate them, too. Bodies, I’m still talking bodies.
You can gift them as my father-in-law did.
Somewhere his cornea still peeks out on the world.
You can bury them at sea.

Everyone’s got a favorite cup of tea, and mine is the Tibetan sky burial.
A corpse is devoured by vultures.
Organs and muscle and fat are gobbled up.
And when only bone is left, monks pulverize it, mix it with flour and feed it to the birds.
Piecemeal the corpse is risen, heavenward.
Through the portal of a gizzard salvation is attained.


We readers often lionize novelists.
That’s a shame. Just ask C. McCarthy. He won’t hang out with them.
Their preoccupations pique him—or bore him.
Instead he prefers the company of physicists, a dry, smart wholesome lot.
C. McCarthy isn’t alone by the way.
G. Greene knows writers can be bastards too—merciless craftsmen greedy for copy.
Think End of the Affair.

Like C. McCarthy and G. Greene, Hemingway is not above a low opinion of novelists.
In The Snows of Kilimanjaro, he portrays a failed writer who is soft about his art.
Harry scratches his knee, gets infected, and gangrene spreads like grass fire.
Before he dies, the poor chap daydreams.
There’s time enough for that.
He’s haunted by a lament: talent unspent; words and sentences unwritten; a vision of the world never made manifest.
He gathers stories like nuts but doesn’t summon the hardness of will to crack them.
A trifler and a dilettante, he lacks a firmness of purpose.
Instead he prefers security and comfort, marrying shrewdly for money.
Each new wife is plumper with dough than the last.


A failed writer may not manifest a vision, but he can still have one.
Harry is fading fast.
Under a tree compassed by hyenas, he’s carried in his cot to a savior plane.
The engine roars. Bumpy take-off.
Feels: infected leg on fire. Pain radiating everywhere.
And then blessed flight, mercifully smooth. Aloft, the wings tilt and glint in the sky.

“The plains spread, clumps of trees, and the bush flattening, while the game trails ran now smoothly to the dry waterholes.” Looking down, Harry “saw a pink sifting cloud, moving over the ground, and in the air, like the first snow in a blizzard, that comes from nowhere… They began to climb and they were going East. Then it darkened and they were in a storm, the rain so thick it seemed like flying through a waterfall… There, ahead, all he could see, as wide as all the world, great, high, and unbelievably white in the sun, was the square top of Kilimanjaro. And he knew that there was where he was going.”

But Harry hasn’t gone anywhere. He’s nowhere else without location.
His body still lies on the cot under the tree. Dead.
But not before witnessing his own triumphant sky burial.
Through the gizzard of his imagination, something like release is won.
And that’s truly a happy gift for a writer in extremis.


6 Responses to How to Dispose of a Novelist’s Body

  1. Kat says:

    Fascinating, enigmatic, and lyrical. Would you believe I’ve never read Cormac McCarthy and only a little of Greene? I admire your inventory of burials.

    I’ve got the Hemingway’s short stories out, and perhaps I’ll read at least one!

  2. Scott Bailey says:

    This is good stuff. It builds well to the ending. I like “Each new wife is plumper with dough than the last.”

  3. marlyyoumans says:

    I like this and feel compelled to tell you that there is a dead tree near my house that belongs to buzzards. They are also fond of a row hemlocky things. And they smell. The trees smell. The grass smells. It is all vulturish and only moderately bearable.

    • Hi Marly, I almost used your Tweet, the one about novelists not being any better than other people. Maybe even worse, as you teased. As for your vulturish environs, sorry it smells but thank you for sharing! Hope you’re well. Best.

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