When a loved one dies, people rarely get time to grieve fully, or find words to express its strange reality. In Claire Donato’s harrowing, enlightened first novel, Burial, a young woman narrates from deep within her anguish. The dense, potent language captures that sense of the unreal that, for a time, pulls people in mourning to feel closer to the dead than the living.
The language is fractured at times as her thoughts slide between terse poetry and lyricism. But an ingenious structure becomes visible below the narrator’s stream of consciousness. We learn that her recurring thoughts about fish, forests and freezing to death are related to her father, who fell through a frozen pond and drowned while deer hunting. It’s her urge to stay connected to him that has condensed months of grief into these days, justifying the book’s experimental style.
One of the more stunning images of despair comes when she thinks about the funeral. “A person dressed in black always blends into her absence, although her expression is soured by grief, shoved into the ground, hung upside-down from a tree until the gravedigger throws up.” Though gruesome, it’s a startlingly original and effective image to show her desire to purge the intense sadness, to imagine that her loss could pierce even the heart of a gravedigger.