In inscriptions for headstones, published by Outpost19, Matthew Vollmer (author of Future Missionaries of America and co-editor of Fakes: An Anthology of Pseudo-Interviews, Faux-Lectures, Quasi-Letters, “Found” Texts, and Other Fraudulent Artifacts) establishes himself as a master of the long sentence in his artfully done exercise in memory. Each of these 30 short, autobiographical essays is written as a single sentence to be inscribed on the deceased’s headstone – stringing together delightful, hilarious, life-affirming moments which round out a picture of a boy who was a boy and then a man and then a husband and a father – a man who beheaded copperheads as a child, considered undergoing surgery to correct an abnormal chest cavity, who searched the internet for a long-lost Michael Jordan-like friend from his childhood, who cut his son’s hair after learning to cut his own, who vacuums a horde of invading ladybugs, tells children campfire stories about a man who scoops out eyeballs with a spoon, is taught to follow the absolute truth and power of G-d as a child and hundreds of other minor, critical moments which define the deceased as a man like so many of us – a man with limited time and an unexpected and strangely important legacy.
While I am a former peer and friend of Matthew’s from grad-school, that has nothing to do with the pleasure I experienced as I read his book. That doesn’t change the fact that I devoured inscriptions for headstones in two days and then re-read it in a single afternoon – laughing out loud at playful moments or reading aloud certain inscriptions to my wife as she boiled water for pasta at our stove. This is the sort of book that you should carry with you even after you’ve read it – plucking it from your backpack or briefcase and reading an inscription (any inscription) during a cab-ride or a 10 minute break at a conference. If you do your face will crack into a goofy smile as mine did and people may give you odd looks because of it, but you will glow with the knowledge that you’ve learned some secret – seen around some corner that those who are checking scores on their iPhones or updating their Facebook status or chatting with their friends have not. This is a book that you could keep atop your microwave and if you do, I wager you’ll look for an excuse to heat things up and stand before it, leaning against your counter-top and flipping to read inscription twenty three or fourteen or eight or twenty nine.
For me Inscriptions for Headstones was the best kind of book – a book that I could step into and out of quickly, a book with no space wasted and a book which made me wish that I had written it. If you haven’t read this yet I recommend that you do so immediately. If you have – I suggest you read it again.