cover image Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life

Furnishing Eternity: A Father, a Son, a Coffin, and a Measure of Life

David Giffels. Scribner, $24 (254p) ISBN 978-1-5011-0594-4

Father and son bond over a lugubrious building project in this sweetly mordant saga of death and carpentry. Healthy but motivated by dark whimsy and his looming 50th birthday, essayist Giffels (The Hard Way on Purpose) decided to build his own coffin with the help of his father, Thomas, an 81-year-old engineer with boundless energy and a head for design. The process unfolds as a quirky ode to the art of woodworking, as the duo savor odd bits of wood, pore over blueprints, and merge into the flow of routing and planing in the sacred space of the workshop. As the project develops, death intrudes in earnest and Giffels must deal with the deaths of his vibrant mother and his best friend, John, a corporate executive with a secret life as a bon vivant, connoisseur of underground rock bands, and avant-garde artist (he called his gallery show Pipefitters, Porn and PBR)—and with Thomas’s cancer diagnosis. Giffels treats these heavy themes with a light touch and deadpan humor, drawing vivid, affectionate portraits of loved ones in the richly textured setting of Akron, Ohio. The result is an entertaining memoir that moves through gentle absurdism to a poignant meditation on death and what comes before it. Agent: Daniel Greenberg, Levine, Greenberg, Rostan. (Jan.)