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The Sin-eater: A Breviary Hardcover – September 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Thomas Lynch’s poems, essays, and stories have appeared in The Atlantic, Poetry and The Paris Review. His book The Undertaking won the American Book Award, was a finalist for the National Book Award, and was made into an Emmy Award-winning PBS Frontline documentary. He lives in Michigan and in Moveen, County Clare, Ireland.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Paraclete Press (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1557258724
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557258724
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,221,154 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Thomas Lynch's stories, poems, and essays have appeared in Granta, The Atlantic, Harper's, the Times (of London, New York, Ireland, and Los Angeles), and elsewhere. "The Undertaking" was a finalist for the National Book Award; he is also the author of "Still Life in Milford," "Booking Passage," "Apparition & Late Fictions" and "Walking Papers." Lynch lives in Milford, Michigan, and West Clare, Ireland.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jim Tenuto VINE VOICE on September 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
When great writers become obsessed two possible outcomes present themselves: self-indulgence or genius. In the case of Thomas Lynch's The Sin-Eater, genius. Lynch is a fourth-generation Irish American who has followed the family business; he is a funeral director in a small Michigan town. His prose is marvelous, but first and foremost he is a poet. I read several poems from The Sin-Eater in an issue of Poetry magazine and immediately ordered the book.

This slim volume of 24 poems (all 24 lines in length) follow the life and ruminations of Argyle, a sin-eater. In Ireland, a sin-eater would appear at funerals, and for a fee of six-pence would eat soda bread and drink a bowl of beer over the body of the deceased, eating his or her sins and preparing her for the afterlife. In predominately Catholic Ireland (Lynch's family originated from a small town near Shannon), this meant a speedier trip to Heaven. Perhaps the most powerful of the poems is "He Posits Certain Mysteries", where Argyle comforts and then helps bury a young boy who is a suicide. While the priest denies the family solace, "No requiem or rosary...nor consecrated ground for the burial", Argyle replies "Forgive them, for they know not what they do." This is an intriguing statement, does the sin-eater speak of the boy or the priest?

These poems feel old, as if written in another time. The weight of Catholicism is palpable. Both Argyle and Ireland are fleshed out.

Adding to the enjoyment of the book are photographs by Lynch's son, Michael. There is the feel of Diane Arbus, stark black and white photographs of dreary landscapes with oddments of the Irish culture cleverly framed.

If you enjoy poetry, this is a must. If you don't enjoy poetry, this is the kind of book that could change your mind.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sheep23 on December 6, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Rarely do you come across a book, or a book of poems that is shaped by a keen sensitivity to language and a profound story. The Sin-Eater by Thomas Lynch is 24 carefully crafted poems focusing on the life of Argyle, a sin-eater in Ireland. As other reviews have noted, a sin-eater is a man who comes to funerals for a six pence and stands over the deceased eating a loaf of bread and drinking a bowl of beer and thereby taking the sins of the dead upon himself. In doing this the sin-eater alleviates the dead from undue time in purgatory. Much like the scapegoat in the OT, the sin-eater was a wanderer after the act of sin-eating was done, roaming for the next place to act. Even though the subject matter can be at times grotesque and morbid, the poems were brilliant because they captured the culture and geography of Ireland, but more importantly they sought to bring together the internal struggle of a man caught between the church (its priest and rites) and the people he cares for. This kind of ongoing struggle with the stature of the Catholic church and Argyle is connected to the author's experience in very concrete ways. In the opening chapter, Lynch describes his spiritual angst by saying, "I'd come to love the sound of religion-its plain chants and Gregorians,...the magic of Latin spoken and sung...But I'd begun to question the sense of it all-the legalisms and accountancy by which glorious and sorrowful mysteries were rendered a sort of dogmatic and dispassionate math" (xvii). This is perhaps part of Argyle's irreverence, being seen by the clergy as 'a pretender to the throne of their authority (xvii). Yet, there is a large part of Argyle who is mystified by the cadences of religion, by the hope of a better place.Read more ›
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By Charles W. Brice on September 28, 2015
Format: Hardcover
Sublime: 1. Characterized by nobility, majestic. 2. a.: Of high spiritual, moral, or intellectual worth. b: Not to be excelled: supreme. 3. Inspiring awe: impressive. 4. "The Sin Eater: A Breviary," by Thomas Lynch. This collection of poems elevates the written word to sublime heights. Thomas Lynch has created, or recreated a mythical character out of Irish folklore: the sin eater. When someone dies, the sin-eater (Lynch gives him the name, Argyle) is summoned. He eats a bread loaf off the deceased's chest and drinks a bowl of beer which contain the sins of the deceased. He is a sanctioned scapegoat who takes on the sins of those he ministers to. Lynch has written a series of poems about the sin-eater that accompanies wonderful photos taken by his son, Michael. The character Lynch has created reminds me a lot of Robert Fanning's Prophet: he is a very fallable human being who has some wonderfully heretical views on the clergy and the church he also semi-represents. Fanning's Prophet (see American Prophet), is likewise a man who has many failings but cares deeply about his fellows. Anyway, Lynch's book is too good to read just once. You want to savor the language over and over again. Here's an example:

He Considers Not the Lilies
but Their Excellencies

Thin gruel, shallow graves, whiskey watered down,
the ne’er-do-well and good-for-nothing crowd
of cornerboys and gobs***es were among
Argyle’s manifold perturbations.
Read more ›
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