Magazine article The New Yorker

Last Words

Magazine article The New Yorker

Last Words

Article excerpt

Obituarists have been cropping up in imaginative literature with insistent frequency of late. Patrick Marber's 1997 play, "Closer," featured a disenchanted hack who explained how he ended up in this " 'Siberia' of journalism": "They ask you to write your own obituary. If it amuses, you're in." The narrator of Porter Shreve's black comedy, THE OBITUARY WRITER (Mariner), published in 2000, explained, "My job was taking the measure of people's lives." In the more sinister world of Andrey Kurkov's novel DEATH AND THE PENGUIN (Harvill), newly translated from the Russian by George Bird, Viktor, a struggling writer, gets a job preparing grandiloquent obituaries and starts off determined "that even the simple collective farmer, having never known the late whoever-it-was he was reading about, would brush away a tear." Though well paid, Viktor becomes increasingly concerned that his subjects, post-Soviet mobsters, are dying suspiciously. …

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