Always the Last Word
Mortality, by Christopher Hitchens. Twelve, 104 pp. $22.99
I admit, I first heard of Christopher Hitchens on the day that he died. My Twitter feed blew up with literary aficionados mourning the loss of the writer.
Hitchens wrote without barriers. If he thought it, he wrote it. According to Graydon Carter, a fellow Vanity Fair journalist who wrote the foreword to Mortality, “He wrote often–constantly, in fact, and right up to the end.”
Hitchens died in 2011, a victim of cancer that began in his esophagus and explored the rest of him like the Western territory. He described his initial tumor as a “blind, emotionless alien,” though noted soon after that it was a mistake to describe it as an actual living thing:
To exist, a cancer needs a living organism, but it cannot ever become a living organism. Its whole malice–there I go again–lies in the fact that the “best” it can do is die with its host. Either that or its host will find the measures with which to extripate and outlive it.
Mortality is not an inspirational book. Hitchens did not write his essays to better the lives of others. They do that on their own, and not in the traditional sense. His final book is a posthumous collection of his views on death. Those who have read him at all will understand how grounded a realist he is, and those who haven’t will appreciate his frankness.
Hitchens was a devout atheist, and received a lot of backlash for his views. One offended reader wrote on an anti-Hitchens website about the correlation between Hitchen’s fateful diagnosis and God’s tendency to smite those who blaspheme Him. This particular comment he dissects with incredible religious knowledge and wit only availableto the man who has no belief in the religions he understands so well.
But, whatever his personal opinions are, writers like this come few and far between. He will be missed, surely. After news of his death spread around the social media and physical worlds, his books, including the essay collection God is Not Great, and personal memoir Hitch-22, re-established their hold on the bestseller lists.
Hitchens left behind a wife, three children, and millions of readers. His final moments are captured by his wife, Carol Blue, who writes the afterword:
“My husband is an impossible act to follow,” she writes. “And yet, I must follow him. I have been forced to have the last word.”
But, as Blue states later in her memory of him, writers like Hitchens do not die with their bodies. They remain on our bookshelves and in our hearts, and they always have the last word.