Elizabeth Edwards, Obituaried

I tend to think of obituaries as having a funnel-shape. They start off wide and broad, and usually pretty, with the big announcement — whether they start with the news announcement of a death or not or not, the fact of the obituary itself serves the purpose. Then we go circling inwards, like in a comic book version of a black hole. It’s the twisting and turning where obituaries often get odd. One obituary style that’s popular is the news obit, which circles down in distinct phases: Big Broad Sketch; Details Revisited; and then Further Minutia As My Editor Has, Bizarrely, Asked For Three More Inches. That’s an obituary style that probably should be done away with, stemming as it does from the days when newspaper stories would be lopped off at different places for different editions. (The straight narrative obituary has become more common over time, at least in newspapers that still have an active obituary desk.) Still, this is a very advanced art! And a subjective one. Sometimes we’re not sure how noteworthy someone is, or why they are of note. And so here we have the strange case of the Times obituary of Elizabeth Edwards. In times past, there would (wrongly) be little mention of the popular scandal of her marriage; still, now, to have the word “infidelity” appear in the first paragraph seems nearly shocking. That her husband’s affair circles around and around as the obituary spirals down seems even odder — so much so that , in the end, this seems like a cruel and cold remembrance. Although, to be fair, perhaps that’s the most accurate take?