Book Review

Sing, Unburied, Sing


I’m a Tuesday person.  Tuesdays are when new books hit the stands – did you know?  A publisher once told me that the practice was rooted in giving a book a full seven days of sales before stores had to report sales figures on Wednesday mornings to the New York Times.  With so many other bestseller lists now, including hour-by-hour ones all over the place, I think this is starting to change.  For me, though, old habits die hard.  Some Monday nights I’m chomping at the bit, wondering what books will show up the next day.

I didn’t have to wonder about Sing, Unburied, Sing.  It had been talked about for weeks, generating buzz among the literati, lots and lots of raving reviews.

So that Tuesday, I went straight to this book.  I read the synopsis, read the first few pages, thought, “Important, but heavy,” and got cold feet.  Several weeks later, I came close again, lost my nerve again.  Before long, Sing, Unburied, Sing had won the National Book Award.  It was named Time Magazine Best Novel of the Year and a New York Times top 10 of 2017.  I told myself that I had to read it, but I knew it I had to pick the right time.

That time came shortly after Thanksgiving.  Feeling upbeat and strong, I downloaded Sing, Buried, Sing and began listening.  There were three readers, one of whom was Rutina Wesley, who had played Tara in HBO’s True Blood.  I had loved her on the show and was looking forward to hearing her voice.

And it was wonderful, her voice was.  So were the other voices.  I got carried away from the start with the beauty of the prose, the lyricism, the rhythm.  Listening to Sing, Unburied, Sing was like listening to an exquisitely-composed song.  The prose was absolutely magnificent, not only at the opening, but through the entire book.

Too much so.  That’s the only reason I can find why I didn’t love this book.  The story was painful but beautiful, and the mystical elements worked for me.  But the prose went on and on, one image more gritty and deep and symphonic than the next.  It was vivid.  I saw.  I felt.  Did I fully understand all of the imagery?  Absolutely not.

I do recommend this book.  As I said above, it’s important. But Sing, Unburied, Sing is two complete things – one, a work of art, the other a novel.  I had trouble combining the two, perhaps my problem, but there it is.  This is one book I might have been better reading than hearing.  Then I would have experienced this gorgeous prose in a different pace and tone.  I might have had an easier time hearing the story.  I might have reread and reread again those images that didn’t entirely make sense.

Then again, it may be that the prose is the story here.  Can a symphony also be a successful, accessible drama?  I’d love to know your thoughts.


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