Claire Donato


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Set in the mind of a narrator who is grieving the loss of her father, who conflates her hotel room with the morgue, and who encounters characters that may not exist, Burial is a little novel about an immeasurable black hole.

Like a 21st century Lispector, Donato grapples with ontology and trades plot for ambience; the result is an elegy in prose at once lyrical and intelligent, with no small amount of rot and vomit and ghosts.


Donato’s hallucinatory meditation on grief seems like a strange summer read, but her poetic, trance-inducing language turns a reckoning with the confusion of mortality into readerly joy at the sensuality of living. Also, it’s small and fits in most pockets, so you can bring it pretty much everywhere, which I plan on doing and highly recommend. — “Best Summer Reads 2013,” Publishers Weekly, chosen by Alex Crowley

Donato’s debut is a dark, multivalent, genre-bending book that follows a female protagonist as she tries to come to terms with her father’s death while conflating her hotel with a morgue. Following in the lineage of such writers as Clarice Lispector, it is a meditation on the multiplicity of the meaning of words. The story is presented as a series of vignettes wherein the reader is presented with characters like the Groundskeeper—who knocks on the protagonist’s door, calling: “Housekeeping. Have you stayed in this cooler before?”—and The Voice, which “dwells in the morgue and the mind and the brain, insisting a person is never alone.” The novella is propelled by a reframing of words and a digging into their roots both etymologically and symbolically; all meditations turn groundward, and the father who is “at rest, half-dead, though very much alive and not yet buried,” is frozen again and again in the bottom of a lake. The protagonist’s musings also often open into striking cinematic moments: “‘…I cannot stand its thickness,’ she moans, and fog encloses the graveyard that encloses the deceased.” Donato has composed with unrelenting, grotesque beauty an exhaustive recursive obsession about the unburiability of the dead, and the incomprehensibility of death.— Starred Review, Publishers Weekly

[A] harrowing, enlightened first novel. . . . dense, potent language captures that sense of the unreal that, for a time, pulls people in mourning to feel closer to the dead than the living. . . . The language is fractured at times as her thoughts slide between terse poetry and lyricism. . . . [A]n ingenious structure becomes visible below the narrator’s stream of consciousness. . . . [S]tartlingly original and effective — Matthew Jakubowski, Minneapolis Star-Tribune

[A] brave novel . . . a raw and honest evocation of the personal experience and overwhelming power of grief. — Rebekah Hall, Mixer

[A] powerful piece of work. . . . [A]n immersive experience into the mind of the bereaved. — Kristofer Collins, Pittsburgh Magazine

Claire Donato is the author of the novel, Burial, from Tarpaulin Sky Press, and the poetry chapbook, Someone Else’s Body, from Cannibal Books. Her fiction, poetry, and lyric essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Boston Review, Encyclopedia, Evening Will Come, LIT, Octopus, and 1913: a journal of forms.