Julian Hanna reviews Stefany Anne Golberg and Morgan Meis's Dead People in 3:AM Magazine:
What makes a life noteworthy and important? What makes a good life? And when a life ends, what constitutes a good summing up, a worthy eulogy? How can a writer, pressed for time, do justice to a life – a great life, presumably – within the hackneyed confines of a two-page obituary? How does one attempt to revive such a dead form?
Or if not dead, then at least resting – unsung, taken for granted – like the manifesto before Marx and Marinetti, when it meant simply a straightforward declaration of intent, no “spectre haunting Europe”, no “courage, audacity, and revolt”. The standard obituary form is: so-and-so was born, rose (usually struggled) to greatness, and died. There is almost a sense that words fail in the face of death, so it is best just to state the facts. How do you breathe life into such a predictable story?
In Dead People, Stefany Anne Golberg and Morgan Meis show us one approach to reinvigorating the form. The collection of twenty-nine obituaries has a provocative cover that makes it great fun to read on the metro. It was written mainly for The Smart Set over the past decade (there are exceptions drawn from n+1 and The New Yorker), and the almost single venue contributes to the high degree of intimacy present in the telling of each life. The authors strike a tone of late-night candour, loose and flowing in the warm glow of the third or fourth drink. But the easy style belies a deeper engagement, honesty about the subject, and a willingness to deal with difficult themes. “We’ve chosen to take these lives personally”, the authors declare in the preface. What Golberg and Meis achieve for the most part is an effortless distillation, boiling down the essence of a public figure’s achievements. The big idea, the breakthrough, the one thing that makes an indelible mark on the culture – this is what we are shown in each brief life.