David Shields’ book, The Thing about Life is that One Day You Will Be Dead, bridges a harmony between intense academic structure and surprising narrative. Biological life cycle, literature, and historical fact act as massive levies shaping the story of a father and son. Sheild’s personal narrative is composed of ungulating prose, refreshingly feminine in their tenderness. He has the ability to expose deep personal vulnerabilities. Vulnerabilities which are mostly associated with being a man. Shield’s ego is satisfyingly missing.
“It (stuttering) prevents you from ever entirely losing self-consciousness when expressing such traditional and truly important emotions as love, hate, joy, and deep pain. Always first aware not of the naked feeling itself but of the best way to phrase the feeling so as to avoid verbal repetition, you come to think of emotions as belonging to other people, being the world’s happy property and not yours- not really yours expect by way of disingenuous circumlocution.”
Sheilds’ moves the reader through a meditation on the biological life cycle. He shares a rich irony in Leonardo da Vinci deathbed sentiments: I offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have. We are given passage into Sheilds’ relationship with his father. He brings us down into his personal mental loops, rounding the curves of his processing of the life cycle and his reoccurring connection to his father. The feel of the book is that of an author who is just as eager to find answers as we are.
What will be my father’s last words?
What will be mine?
The thing about reading Sheilds’ work is it is an experience to crave, deliberately.