Examining "Obituary."


Published in issue 20.1 of Fourteen Hills, Molly Faerber's “Obituary” is a stunning examination of mourning and loss and simultaneously a celebration of life and memory. We selected this piece because it flawlessly sustains poetic lyric across a fiction narrative. The power of the story comes in the form of images, flashes of memory, and an image of the subject slowly forms—edges come into focus, then the thing itself, and finally the world around the thing itself.

“Obituary” is the story of a woman's life from birth to death as remembered by a friend/former lover. In the small breadth of three pages, we see the deceased in childhood, as a young woman traveling through Europe, her loves and lovers, her moments of suffering and sadness and the illness which inevitably claims her. We see all of this through the voice of the speaker who we only know through the experiences of the deceased subject. From the speaker's voice, though, we come to feel the tenderness and love that exists between these two beings, and by the end of the story, we have a vivid portrait of not one but two human lives.

The second-person in this piece is exquisite—the subject addressed is someone else, someone specific, but this repetition of “you” commands the reader to impose his/her consciousness upon the subject and embody her experiences. The result is a very inward and meditative experience shared between speaker, subject and reader.

The language of the story is poetic and lyrical. Note, for instance, the line, “You leaving for London and me for New York—leaving you. You leaving me, not quite a death.” There is such pronounced musicality in the repetition of the words “you” and “leaving,” and the turn from the third “you” to “me” to “death” is breathtaking in both its voice and its economy. The speaker recalls, “The first word you ever say, you exceptionally young.” Here, the speaker does not actually have a literal memory of this moment, but poetically, she does—the first word uttered by the subject is part of the subject's identity and the subject is part of the speaker's identity, so therefore the first word she, the deceased, ever spoke, belongs to the speaker as well. In moments like this we see a lovely sort of meeting between metacognition and subjective experience.

The story is both elegiac and celebratory. Faerber concludes, “Your hands slicing tomatoes. Held now between the pages of a novel, your face unknowing—you” and in the first of these final two lines, we see the memory of a human life distil into a morbid and at the same time tender image; the glint of the knife reminds us of the death, but the tomatoes—organic and teeming with life—are a reminder of the cyclical nature of experience. This transitions beautifully into the final image of the pages of a novel—the subject exists now in ink and paper—the beauty of this concluding image is that we do not know if the book is opened or closed. The contrast between these two images is both heartbreaking and uplifting.

This story spans such a wide range of human emotion. We feel joy, sorrow, jealousy and anger all within such a compact and brief narrative. It is because of all of these factors that we happily chose to publish “Obituary” in issue 20.1. We hope you read it and walk away with strong feelings like we did.

Fourteen Hills Press is staffed exclusively by graduate students in SFSU's Creative Writing program. We publish the annual Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review and annual chapbooks. Fourteen Hills is committed to publishing the best of original poetry, fiction, literary nonfiction, and cross-genre work created by writers in the US and abroad.

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