The Physics of Grief

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This is the time in the South when azaleas are popping everywhere, bursting open like Jiffy Pop popcorn—pink, red, yellow, orange, and lavender puffs that light up against so much emerging green and the sky so blue, vivid with renewal. Azaleas seems to be a celebration, as if my world is saying “Look! The weather is good again! We have all survived!”

Normally, this would begin Hot Tub Season at Pineapple Hill in rural South Carolina, a beach house in a cow pasture jazzed up with a pint-sized vineyard, peach trees, palms and bamboo. When the hot tub is running, I slip in with a good book but, alas, the part I ordered, a 220 volt GFCI breaker, still has not arrived. So I’m drydocked, as my sailing friends would say. Up on jacks for a while.

Plan B is to go to the hammock on the second floor porch. It overlooks a downward sloping pasture where tall grass swaying in the wind seems a lot like the sea. My life is good.

The book I’ve brought is The Physics of Grief, a new one from Mickey J. Corrigan. I’ve read her stuff before. She writes with attitude. This time her Popeye wind-up built up enormous Whoopass—twisted tighter and tighter during Covid social distancing until finally released in this smart and thoughtful tale about unexpected people intertwined with complexity in the everyday business of living and dying.

For starters, I loved the title, The Physics of Grief, because I’m a recovering grieve-aholic, having recently experienced a hard series of losses—people and things I once loved. Corrigan dedicates this book to everyone grieving losses at a time of pandemic and then she opens with a bit of valuable information: Stephen Hawking, the celebrated physicist, updated his theory on black holes, the collapsed stars which absorb nearby light and matter, to say they are not empty voids because it has been proven that nothing in ever lost. Corrigan cooks it down to this: whenever something dies—a star, a memory, a loved one—is isn’t vacuumed up and carted off onto some abyss, some dumpster of nothingness. No, she explains, it is still in existence somewhere else.

Pretty deep stuff. And this is just the beginning pages.

What Corrigan does next is demonstrate the ongoing-ness of everything by describing the trials and tribulations of a down-and-out Everyman drawn into a new type of work: Professional Grieving. A mysterious entrepreneur hires him to attend wakes and funerals, to be a stand-in mourner not unlike an extra on a movie set. An interesting proposition that Corrigan turns more heat on by casting wake and funeral clients with ties to the mob. If that weren’t edgy enough, she adds ten rules of professional grieving which must be learned and adhered to at all times. And women. She adds women, past, present, and future to mess with the poor guy’s mind.

It’s a walk on the wild side, for sure. The outrageous paired with the actually possible. Good blended thoughtfully in with evil. A side of the coin many have heard of but few have ever seen, showing us what is there all around us though we meander by oblivious. The story arches with steady aim, taking off like an arrow sure and strong, up, up, up before descending smoothly, efficiently with spot on accuracy. Too, Corrigan knows people every bit as well as a high dollar shrink. She uses strength, weakness, intellect and secrecy to create what resembles a can of Planter’s mixed nuts—macadamias, cashews and filberts in there with pecans, almonds and pistachios. There are no peanuts in this special blend. Most of all, you get more than your money’s worth in her fleshy descriptions. Of things. Of actions. Of emotions. She strings her sentences like necklaces made of wonderful, unpredicted beads. And it plays out like music does—paragraphs composed in intense yet freely flowing stretches punctuated with short beats to set them off. The whole thing works like a perfectly tuned engine that lets you ride along at an easygoing pace to take in the sights—things large and small Corrigan sets out to entertain and challenge—in between hard taps on the gas springing you forward, reminding you of joyriding in a stolen car.

For a good time, call Barnes & Noble for a copy of Corrigan’s The Physics of Grief. Or buy it online at a dozen different places.