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The Undertaker's Wife by Loren D. Estleman
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The Undertaker's Wife

by Loren D. Estleman

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Just a good story--nothing more, but nothing less--more about the undertaker than his wife, despite the title. It follows his career, from his apprenticeship with his father in Monroe, Michigan, through Civil War service, a failed attempt to challenge the corruption in San Francisco as the transcontinental railroad is completed, then a partnership in Fort Hays, Kansas (again with a corrupt sheriff in control) as the railroad is arriving, another partnership briefly in Virginia City, Montana, a stint teaching mortuary science in Chicago, another brief venture in St. Louis before ending his career in Buffalo as a nationally known undertaker. ( )
  mbergman | Nov 9, 2007 |
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R.W. Gilbert…was a sallow-faced old widower who managed to depress people when he wished them a happy Christmas.
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Book description
Plot Summary: Famous undertaker Richard Connable is called out of retirement to embalm and disguise the suicide of a rich financier. His wife Lucy, hiding her illness from Richard, makes her own funeral arrangements while he is out. In an extended flashback, Lucy reflects on her brother and parents’ death, her marriage to the undertaker’s son, their efforts to set up an undertaker’s parlor in several frontier towns, introduction to Wild Bill, and the death of their only child, Victoria. Appeal Factors: Meditative pace with detailed description of 19th century life. Realistic description of setting focuses mostly on difficulty of life in frontier towns (rutted roads, gun fights, corrupt law officers), less on natural scenery (brutal Montana winters). Complex, well-developed characters with strengths and flaws. Story revolves around Richard & Lucy’s struggle to maintain marriage despite alcoholism and their child’s death. Somber, brooding atmosphere peppered with black humor. Moderately graphic description of embalming process. Reads like literary fiction. Symbolism of duality (Janus, twins, life & death, East & West, surface appearance & underlying reality). Sad ending.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0765309130, Hardcover)

The undertaker's wife waits; she weaves; she builds.

The undertaker practices his art, the Dismal Trade, with consummate skill. He has raised it to an art through the high craft of the Connable Method. Through it, he has managed to transform the ugliness of death into a thing of dignity and beauty. Victims brutalized by war, street fights, tavern brawls, ambushes, fires, every hazard in a raw West---these, in his hands, become presentable. Everywhere on the frontier, which erupts with life and death, he offers his skill: to the rich of San Francisco, the bawds and ruffians of the Barbary Coast, to Kansas cowboys, outlaws, soldiers, and sheriffs. He is devoted to dignifying the dead.

She is devoted to making her marriage whole, in spite of the tragedy that surrounds it and, most especially, in spite of the tragedy that in one terrible afternoon strikes at its center.

Today the undertaker is called to disguise the suicide of a famous financier. It is high drama, for only his art can save America's financial markets. Her task on this day is secret, an act of understanding and dedication.

In the end, it is the undertaker's wife who, through love, is able to transcend death.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:46 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

The undertaker's wife waits and builds. The undertaker practices the dismal trade with consummate skill. He has transformed the ugliness of death into a thing of dignity and beauty. Today the undertaker is called to disguise the suicide of a famous financier. It is high drama for only his art can save America's financial markets.… (more)

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