Book Review: "As I Lay Dying"


As I Lay Dying: Meditations Upon Returning by Richard John Neuhaus

I hate to beat up on a guy who practically died, but having suffered through this tedious little book, he owes me.

"As I Lay Dying" is a well-meaning book by a very intelligent, well-placed and well-read Catholic priest who (sadly) has nothing much to say. The book is an endless, detached musing on the meaning of death, on the experience of dying, and on the thoughts of poets, saints and philosophers. But it adds up to very little in the end. Neuhaus offers very few definitive insights and few interesting stories. He knocks (rightly) the dopey bravado we assume when facing death as well as our inability to help our loved ones to face the end of their lives. But these insights are told in passing -- as though he is retelling tales learned from others. Neuhaus tells little of his own story -- you don't even know what was making him sick until a third of the way through the book. (Spoiler: a tumor caused his colon to rupture -- now you know!) His suppositions and musings circle and circle aimlessly on the winds of his own meandering reminiscences.

I picked up this book as an aid to a family member who lost her father. She never made it past the dust jacket. It was a wise decision: the book would not have helped her in her own grief.

Some may interpret my harshness as my confession to being shallow. So be it. But now I know what it is like to wait for death; it is like reading this book.