Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach


Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human CadaversStiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I consider myself a morbid person. My sense of humor tends to be dark, and the virtues of cremation versus burial doesn't seem an odd topic to discuss with a newfound acquaintance (provided said acquaintance is game). I thought, therefore, that this book would be right up my alley, filling in my gaps about what happens to our containers after we die.

I was unprepared for this particular book. While I did learn several new things about decomposition and environmentalist body disposal, I spent most of the experience of this book clutching my stomach and hoping she'll crack a joke soon.

Many of the jokes struck me as morbidly funny, but they were few and far between. Most of the book consists of graphic descriptions about terrible things happening to dead bodies (or to living ones with dead flesh transposed). The least terrible thing that might happen to your body, if you donate it to science, is you'll be dissected by a medical student, who'll treat your old container with respect bordering on reverence. If not, your flesh will rot in the ground, be burned and released into the atmosphere, or be used in crash tests. Or, maybe you'll have access to new ways of bodily disposal, like being dissolved in lye and flushed down a drain (but for powdery remains that can be scattered), or freeze-dried and ground up to feed a memorial tree.

My two older sisters, who have both dissected cadavers, once mentioned how it made them hungry. I didn't believe them until I read this book. My appetite has never been healthier. Considering the stomach-churning descriptions, it's bizarre, but true.

I didn't think the graphic descriptions were entirely necessary. Roach creates a euphemism for maggots which manages to soften the disgusting reality. Why, then, didn't she also spare us the knowledge of which foodstuff liquefied brains most resemble?

The book definitely got me thinking about what I'm going to do with my remains, and it had a lot of potentially useful information, if I needed to know about the whole industry behind dead bodies. But in the end, I could've done without the rather ghastly descriptions.

I listened to the book on audio, narrated by Shelly Frasier. I have no complaints about the audio, except that I couldn't skim past the parts that made me squirm the most.


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