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Desert Solitaire
by Edward Abbey

The Man Who Died

The Man Who Died
D.H. Lawrence

The Man Who Died
I’m not completely sure what to make of this one. It’s not that I didn’t understand the book — I feel like I have a firm grasp on the story and the subtext — it’s that I’m not sure that I understand why Lawrence wrote the book. It doesn’t really strike me as the type of story that would be contained within a man, just waiting to be released. And it doesn’t strike me as the type of story that a man would write with the intent of startling or educating an audience. It’s also not a story of particularly intentional beauty. So my wild, uneducated, and uninformed guess is that it was something of an experiment for Lawrence, an attempt to tackle something that was wandering around his head one afternoon. And I think that the book’s length — weighing in at just under 100 pages — seems to support the theory. I’ve done some writing, and I’ve got some idea of what it’s like to sit down at the keyboard with an idea, and to gently launch a story out into the water like a tiny boat, just to see where it lands. And once the boat touches the opposite bank, or gets swept away out of sight, you put out the lights, and wander upstairs to sleep, and don’t think about it any more.
As it happens, The Man Who Died is beautiful, but I don’t think it’s because Lawrence set out with any particular goal to make it so. I think that it’s just how the boat happened to drift. It seems to set out with some dim idea of exploring the beauty of being alive, the beauty of being in human flesh, and to intersect those ideas with a dim idea of what it must have felt like for the resurrected Christ to find himself once again walking the earth in human form. It briefly follows the “post-retirement” career of Christ, the healing and acceptance of his corporeal form, and his exploration of what it really means to be alive and in a human body. And then, either satisfied or frustrated with the exploration (I won’t speculate which), the story rather abruptly stops. And, much as I imagine Lawrence must have done when he finished writing it, I then laid the book gently down, and went to sleep.

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