using the arrow buttons.
by clicking on the page.
the page around when zoomed in by dragging it.
the zoom using the slider when zoomed-in.
by clicking on the zoomed-in page.
by entering text in the search field, and select "This Issue" or "All Issues"
by clicking on thumbnails to select pages, and then press the print button.
displays sections with thumbnails and descriptions.
displays a slider of thumbnails. Click on a page to jump.
allows you to browse the full archive.
about your subscription?
Lions Roar : May 2017
The image sprang up in my mind of Lincoln in the crypt with the boy’s body across his knees—sort of a cross between the Lincoln Memorial and the Pieta. So the book is set on the first night that Lincoln comes to the graveyard. He enters the crypt, holds the body, and, as they say, “Hilarity ensues.” The “hilarity,” as you call it, is a parallel story line that takes place among characters in a kind of purgatory that’s referred to in the title as a bardo. All of fiction is contained in that phrase, “Hilarity ensues.” How does the hilarity ensue? One of the first problems was how to write a novel with only one living person in it. If you were sitting there watching, Lincoln would rise at night, go into the crypt, come out, and leave. That’s the whole arc. So I struggled with a few different approaches. One was just an internal monologue, which didn’t seem that interesting to me. But years earlier I had started and abandoned a book that was set in an upstate New York graveyard. The idea was that a bunch of dead people from the community who were kind of stuck, or ghosts, would be kind of cross-talking back and forth a little bit. So when I got into this Lincoln book, I thought, well, who else is going to be there? Maybe ghosts or spiritual beings. I’d been reading some Buddhist texts and was aware of the bardo as a sort of transitional state between the moment when you die and the moment you’re reincarnated. That struck me as an interesting way to destabilize the usual ghost story, to say, well, they’re not really ghosts, they’re some- thing else. Then the book becomes a way to see what they are, what’s holding them there, what their limitations are, what their capabilities are, what their desires are, and so on. The title uses the word bardo, but the realm these characters inhabit is quite different from the experience described in texts like The Tibetan Book of the Dead. As a writer, my goal was to try to create an afterlife that was funny and unexpected and terrifying in some way that we hadn’t seen before. Before I started, I did a lot of reading about what different religious systems think happens right after death. I thought the realm described in The Tibetan Book of the Dead was really rich and beautiful, but when I tried to drop the char- acters into that realm it was sort of strangely static. It was like when you’re a kid and the church tells you exactly what heaven’s going to be like. You feel it would be a little disappointing if it were exactly like they described it. So what I tried to do in creating this afterlife realm was not so much to be accurate—because who knows?—but to reflect the kind of disorientation and stress that a person would feel. I’m sure that whatever happens after you die, it’s going to be surprising. Even if what you’ve been told is largely correct, it will probably have a different flavor than you expected. These character are, in my imagination, a small subset of the greater population of the dead. They are the ones who are unable to go on to the next thing, whatever that is. Some of them are unhappy, lustful, resentful, crestfallen, and confused about what’s actually happened to them. They’re a group of people who are, for whatever reason, stuck in that transitional realm. They act as kind of a Greek chorus at the intersection of the human realm and the ghostly realm they’re stuck in. They’re observing Willie, observing Lincoln, and observing one another. They’re a little confused when Willie arrives, because in the world of the book, he’s not really supposed to hang around there. Kids aren’t really safe in that realm. They experience a strong pull to do the natural thing, which is to go on to whatever the next step is. In order to stay, they have to constantly perform recitations to remind themselves of who they are, maybe a bit like what we do here in the human realm. They’re constantly reinforcing who they are and why they’re justified in staying. Some of them have been there for twenty or thirty years, and over the years that’s diminished them a bit. They’re not full consciousnesses. So it’s kind of sad. Also, they’re very interested in the living, because they have the feeling that they used to be in the higher realm of full beings and now they’ve been some- what demoted. They’re very interested in whether they can have any effect on the thought streams of living people, and they all entertain a slight hope that someday, if they do everything right, they’ll be reinstated to the human realm. But they’re all kind of confused and only partially aware of the situation there. So who do we have in these bardo beings? We have a bunch of neurotic beings who are self-obsessed, completely convinced they’re correct, prefer their version to everyone else’s, and believe they’re at the center of the universe. That’s no different from human beings. They’re just like us, but more so. I love the idea in the Tibetan texts that when we’re here on earth, the body dampens the mind’s erratic power, like a horse on a tether. But then when you die the tether gets cut. The mind becomes immensely powerful, but it’s also habituated to the ways it was been used during life. So they’re kind of humans on steroids, but dead. They’re trapped, because they’re denying nature in a way. They’re not supposed to be pausing at this graveyard and if they stay there too long bad things happen to them. This has an uncanny resemblance to what we learn in the Bud- dhist teachings. We’re also trapped because of our habits of mind, but that there are certain practices and ways of thinking that LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 42