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on August 2, 2011
This is a great place to start with James Joyce, because it is readable and engaging. What at first seems like a slow start is actually a slow burn that bursts into flame at the end. If you've ever doubted whether your life is full, or your love is true, or worried about death or the claims the past makes upon the present, you'll be intrigued by Joyce's treatment of these themes.

You will probably want to ignore the annotations on a first read, though. One is actually a partial spoiler for the ending, which I think is a terrible practice. If you are a tourist in Dublin, you will enjoy knowing just where everything takes place--and with these annotations, you will--but for anyone else, it is frustrating to follow a footnote only to find out on what corner of Dublin an aforementioned statue sits. Similarly, for antique furniture enthusiasts, it may be interesting to find out, in two separate footnotes, that peirglasses and cheval glasses are both different kinds of mirrors, but is it worth interrupting the narrative? Of the hundred or so footnotes, only a handful provide useful information for a non-specialist, and even these can be inferred from context. The only one that might be hard to guess is that "delicate," in a certain context, means stricken with consumption, which we call tuberculosis--so now that I've given you that one, you can ignore the rest until your second, more scholarly reading.
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Reynolds Price called it the greatest short story written in English. Carson McCullers reread it every Christmas. I have read James Joyce's masterpiece "The Dead" from his book DUBLINERS at least a half dozen times. I just reread it, and as usual, it made my eyes burn. It is one of those rare stories that, when you finish it, you call up those people you love and those who love literature to make sure they have read it too.

The story, set in Dublin, covers one evening during the Christmas season when two sisters, the Misses Morkan, Julia and Kate, hold their annual dance, the event of the season and not to be missed. Their nephew Gabriel and his wife Gretta are of course invited. Gabriel is pompous and, to use a current expression, full of himself as he gives his usual speech at the event. The last 4 or 5 pages of this rather long-- although there is not one sentence too many-- story contain some of the most moving language you will encounter in English. Joyce makes a sad, profound statement about love, life and death and asks the question of how well do we really know those people closest to us.

The story became the director John Huston's last film by the same name (1987). He cast his daughter Anjelica as Gretta. Tenor Frank Patterson, who left us far too soon, sang that glorious song "The Lass of Aughrim" in the movie that is almost as good as Joyce's story.

Everyone who loves literature should read this perfect story.
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on February 3, 2013
"I mean, they say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time."

Banksy

Although this quotation is not from "The Dead", it's a good introduction. Joyce's affecting novella explores the theme of the pull those who have passed on exert on those of us still here. There are no allusions to the supernatural, only an honest confrontation of the stubborn fact that there are relationships that trump death. But it's not a sermon; it's a story and a very good one.
Joyce has set the scene at a party in Dublin around the time of the feast of the Epiphany, just after the turn of the twentieth century. Please join the party. Settle into your favorite reading chair with a pot of tea (or an Irish whiskey) and enter into a world long vanished. You can become indignant with the strong republican, smile at the drunk, reminisce with the hostesses, and - perhaps - even hear ever so faintly the music. Pay close attention to Gabriel and Gretta Conroy as they enter from the cold. Joyce builds their characters with individual brush strokes: these are real people, with contradictions and passions, not stock characters. As the party ends, you will have had many occasions to reflect upon "our dear departed" and our ties to them.
But Joyce has given Gabriel and Gretta a final dramatic scene to play out. Their intense and exhausting encounter leaves the reader in a stew of emotions and calls him or her to cast their own minds back through the halls of personal memory. Entertaining and rewarding are apt, but inadequate, praise for this gem.
When you've finished the story, rent the film version brilliantly directed by John Huston, download "The Lass of Aughrim" to your iPhone, and have another pot of tea - or glass of Irish whiskey.
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on February 10, 2014
More an extended vignette than a novella, "The Dead" is a tender, loving observance of one night in an extended family's Christmas holiday party. Sharply etched characters fill the rooms of the Misses Morkan's annual dance, with special attention paid to Gabriel Conroy and his wife, Gretta, as they slowly, slowly come to a better understanding of each other...one tinged with more than a hint of sadness. Part of "The Dubliners" series of stories and tales, it shows the work of a master craftsman who can bring you into each person's life without obvious manipulation.

A perfect companion piece is John Huston's elegant adaptation of the book into a film.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon September 11, 2011
This is not the difficult James Joyce of Finnegan's Wake. Here Joyce very gracefully captures the complex mood of an evening that's both distinctly Irish and universal. His themes are deep but direct.

The story takes place in the first week of 1904. The scene is the annual ball given by two maiden aunts and their middle-aged niece. They're a musical family - and we hear old-fashioned songs. We hear amusing snippets of conversation among the guests.

Perhaps it's not so surprising that eating, drinking, singing and dancing lead to thoughts of death among some of the celebrants. I'll say no more but leave it to you to discover the subtle ironies of this story. Needless to say, the writing is exquisite.

I'm reviewing the Coyote Canyon Press edition of The Dead, not a study edition or an audio tape. There's a short biographical sketch of Joyce on the opening page that I found helpful as a refresher, since I haven't read James Joyce in years, but other no other scholarly material except footnotes. Readers will want to take care what edition they're buying.

The Dead is the last story in Dubliners. It might make more sense to buy the whole collection, unless you're really focusing on this story.
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on December 29, 2013
Joyce at his lucid best. The stark realism of his early form shows Joyce talent for linear plot lines and recurring symbols and themes. Probably studied more than any short story ever written there is little I can add to the critical body of work surrounding this, what many call "perfect" short story. What amazes me is that it took Joyce over nine years to find a publisher for the "Dubliners." Now the stories have become cornerstones for the study of the form. The Dead, in exploring the notion that the dead remain alive and agents in the world, for as long as someone remembers them will remain central to the English canon. A language that the Irish brought to new heights and pushed to new boundaries of comprehensibility. It will remain important for as long as the snow falls "covering all the living and the dead."
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on January 28, 2013
I am sick of all the books I am reading. I needed a short, well written work that I could get through and here it was. I had been putting it off until after I make more progress on the works of Conrad and can look forward to Joyce and Ulysses, but it was the shortest thing on the shelf when I went looking...

Excellent writing, true characters, well conceived scenes... This is a fantastic little novella and just what I needed. I really saw myself in Gabriel, at every family gathering. Finding myself reflected in a character is a pretty rare thing, for me. Now I have to pick up a book of Joyce's short stories and add it to the list...
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on May 12, 2013
I love how he gradually shifts from describing the party and everyone's small talk to the innermost thoughts of the two main characters. If you want to know what Joyce is about without tackling Ulysses, start here.
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on December 29, 2013
So glad I read it prior to UWM Center for Celtic Studies annual reading of The Dead at Milwaukee's premier Irish Pub and B&B, County Clare. I wound up reading the part of the addled Aunt Julia.
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on July 12, 2014
The best of The Dubliners, this version is helpfully illumined by the annotator. Highly recommended to casual students of Joyce's work
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