I am late to the Marilyn Johnson party, y’all. I am not fashionably late. I am so late the servers are washing glasses and the other guests have long since departed for the after-party at the library books bar. By which I mean, y’all have probably all already read this and gone on to read This Book Is Overdue, and by now y’all are probably Marilyn Johnson’s agent for her next book about, I don’t know, the lives of book scouts or something. So, sorry. As my mother says, sometimes it be’s that way.
The Dead Beat is about obituaries: obituary writers and obituary enthusiasts. Because obituary enthusiasts are apparently a thing, to the point that they have conventions for obituary enthusiasts. I do not say this critically. I would love to be a fly on the wall at a convention for obituary enthusiasts. In related news, I like the word “enthusiast”, and any convention for an unusual interest reminds me of the very funny and very Gaimany serial killers’ convention in the second volume of Sandman.
The Dead Beat tells about famous obituaries, introduces us to notable obituarists, and explores trends in obituaries: the warts-and-all ones, the de-mortuis-nil-nisi-bonum ones, the obituaries of the rich and famous, the obituaries of the common man. Obituaries written and saved decades in advance of the subject’s death. Obituary interviews conducted almost before the body is cold. Common-man obituaries after 9/11 and criticism of same. This last was extremely affecting, and I read the book ages before the 9/11 anniversary.
If you like books that introduce you to pockets of everyday life you’ve never thought of before — and y’all know that I do like that — then The Dead Beat is the book for you. But then, considering this book was a big deal years and years and years and years ago, and I was like the only one not paying attention, you probably already know that.
There are thousands and thousands of other reviews. Because I am the last person ever to read this book in the entire world.