The Charms of Murder

Death may come as a full point or trail away in tactful ellipsis . . . but sometimes a narrator needs to be proactive. Murder may be required. Death is a destiny of narrative sentences, from As I Lay Dying to The Dead, or from Citizen Kane to Sunset Blvd., where we begin to realize that our narrator is dead already. Or is he telling the story just to delay that clinching expiration? I know, death is not reassuring. But we do rather enjoy The Night of the Living Dead, with the excruciating fun of those hungry corpses lurching after us and scratching at our windows. We have counted the bodies in Cormac McCarthy and James Ellroy. We do murder (if you know what I mean), albeit in a connoisseur’s way, and we have a special taste for those movies told by a dead or dying person. After all, there’s been a lot of early, enforced death around, and these days murder is as common as love scenes were in the 1930s. Any uneasiness may be smoothed away by a dash of black humor, with Jeeves coming in as usual one morning. “Excuse me, sir, will you be having breakfast today, or are you at long last quite dead?”

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