Levy, Francis, “Tombstone: Not a Western”, Black Rose Writing, 2018.
Spiritual Comedy or Comic Spirituality?
I must begin with a personal aside. I do not like books that tell me what they are in the title as if to get me ready for the read. With that said, let’s look at “Tombstone”, a very funny novel about the funeral business and it dares to go where few others will. Not since Evelyn Waugh’s “The Loved One” has death been dealt with so satirically as it is here. Let’s face it, death is really the last frontier and no one has been back to tell us what it is. It is and probably always will be a mystery and is not likely to be the topic for a comic novel. Writer Levy not only touches upon death but also upon success, marriage, spirituality and comforting the living after the death of a loved one. Levy decided to look at death through humor and its own absurdities and he well succeeds in doing so.
We meet Robert and Marsha Bernstein, a New York married couple as they make plans for leaving this world and check out the possibilities for how their deaths will be taken care so as not to bother their children with details (or costs). They look at cremation vs. burial (cremation is cheaper and does not require perpetual care). They go coffin shopping, talk with morticians, examine wills and trusts and even spend time at an Arizona resort that has funeral seminars and “death defying activities.” They want to make sure that their hearts and their finances are at the same places. We immediately see that humor enters the plot from all angles but we also sense the amount of thought it took to write a book like this. We must decide if Levy is making fun of one of the facts of life—death or is he just having fun. I found myself facing the question that we so many of us face after some one we care about dies and that is if it is indeed possible to find solace. The question of God also appears from time-to-time.
Levy looks at the reality of the funeral industry as well and we become really aware that dying is not a cheap activity. The funeral industry is a “rip-off” and there is no return on the money that changes hands. Once its gone, it is gone forever (but think what others would say about a cheap funeral). Besides that funerals disrupt regular days. Levy does give us some tongue-in-cheek ways of saving money and it is all so irreverent and fun. Comedy and spirituality join hands as the Bernsteins deal with their dead futures. as Robert and Marsha haplessly negotiate their way to the hereafter.
I suppose I have to excuse Levy for telling me this was not going to be a western before I read it but he must have known that I would laugh my way through the read.