In a scene from the movie Roxanne which of course I cannot find on YouTube right now, Steve Martin has a delightfully mocking scene in which he celebrates being present at a moment of genius. I was reminded of that scene (minus the mocking) when I picked up and read Lucy Biederman’s The Walmart Book of the Dead. In her acknowledgments, Biderman, a lecturer in English at Case Western Reserve University, says she drew inspiration from a 1960 gloss on a museum’s holdings, a translation of the Papyrus of Ani and a book called The Quest for Immortality: Treasures of Ancient Egypt. First of all, who reads those things? And who reads those things and comes up with this? Like Steve Martin in that scene I wish I could find, I wish I was there at that moment. Because what she’s come up with is brilliant.
Having never been a fan of genres, I love the visible struggle to define what this is. It’s referred to as a “series of librettos,” “a darkly comic incantation” and it won an award given to vignette collections. When I went to pick it up at a bookstore, I quickly realized that I had no idea where to look. It turns out it was in the Poetry section.
I can’t claim I understood every incantation or vignette, but the ones I did find my way into were funny and pointed and true. I relished the thought of Walmart executives meeting to discuss the book. Granted, I have my own opinions of Walmart and everything it seems to embody, so maybe I celebrated parts of this for that reason, but mostly I celebrated the genius of the idea and the wonderful execution of it. I absolutely guarantee you’ve read nothing like it. So go pick it up. But if you’re in a hurry, ask about where to find it. Who knows where it’ll be shelved?