Book Review: Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training

Curtains: Adventures of an Undertaker-in-Training

Tom Jokinen

Da Capo Press

288 pages

I’ll admit, I have a morbid curiosity, and death has always fascinated me.  Books like Stiff, by Mary Roach are right up my alley, and in my attempt to find something in that vein to read for RIP VI.  I stumbled across this one on Amazon and downloaded the sample.  Twenty minutes later, I knew I was paying for this bad boy, and I continued to read well into the night.

Tom Jokinen decides to spend almost an entire year immersing himself in the funeral industry.  Inspired by Jessica Mitford (sister of Nancy) who wrote The American Way of Death and, thirty years later, The American Way of Death Revisited (one of my favorite books), Jokinen sheds light on the affect Mitford has had on the funeral industry and the way the industry has evolved in the last few decades, with cremation becoming more and more popular.

I thought it would be fun to share some of the interesting tidbits I gleaned from Jokinen’s memoir.

•By 2025, 59% of decedents will be cremated

•Red lipstick may look good on you while you’re alive, but once you die, purple lipstick is where it’s at.

•Speaking of makeup, you can’t use regular makeup on dead people, being as makeup adheres due to the heat in your body.  Therefore, a corpse needs something more like shellac.

•In Europe, it is common to lease a grave for 15 years.  If, when the lease ends, you choose not to renew it, the bones will be removed.

•Death rates are expected to rise again in 2020, when the baby boomers start dying off.

•A typical cremation uses 16 gallons of gasoline.  Obviously not very eco friendly.

Curtains is filled with hundreds of little nuggets like these, which I love.  I was rapt and read the entire book in less than 48 hours.  If you know of any other books that are similar to this, definitely let me know.

If you are interested in this book, you may also like:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Reviews:

The Book Lady’s Blog

S Krishna’s Books

I purchased this book from Amazon for my kindle.

This book counts towards RIP VI.

Book Review: Wishing for Snow

Wishing for Snow

Minrose Gwin

Harper Perennial

240 pages

Minrose Gwin had quite the childhood.  Her father and mother divorced when she was very young, so she had no recollection of her father, and her mother remarried a man simply known as “The Salesman”.  Meanwhile, her mother, Erin Taylor Clayton Pitner, was what you might call a bit eccentric, which eventually developed into full fledged mental illness.  There was no point where it became obvious the Erin went from just a tad erratic to downright certifiable, although Gwin’s literary style may have made it disorienting, but more on that later.

The relationship between Gwin and her mother was very tragic.  There was a lot of contention between them later on, especially after Minrose had Erin committed later on, but even as a child, Erin did not appear to be a compassionate loving mother.  The bond between the two was weak, and maybe it had to do with the fact that Minrose’s father abandoned the two of them early on, annihilating Erin’s intentions to have a happy, cohesive family.  The man she chose to marry during Minrose’s childhood, “The Salesman”, did nothing to unify the family, and instead drove them further apart.  He was a complete jackass, and one scene towards the end of the book had me feeling sick to my stomach.  All I will say is that it involved a pony being dragged by a car.

The time period of the book added another layer to the narrative, with Erin being born in the 20s and Minrose being born in the 40s.  The climate in the South at that time was very traditional, and one example of the contention caused by the stigma at the time was when Minrose became pregnant with her daughter.  She married her daughter’s father early in the pregnancy, but when her daughter was born and it was obvious that she was not premature, and thus conceived prior to the marriage, Erin was shamed and irritated.

As for the writing style, which I hinted at earlier, it was very free flowing.  I liked the fact that Minrose chose to include portions of her mother’s childhood diary and her poems, although I thought she went overboard with the poetry.  Had she pared it down a little, I think I would have enjoyed it more.  However, the excessive poetry was somewhat cloying.  Poetry fans will like that aspect of the book though.  There was also no timeline as far as the narrative went.  Minrose jumped back and forth from one issue to another, from one decade to another and back again.  I thought it worked well for her, although there were a few instances where it became confusing.

Wishing for Snow, was, above all, a very thoughtful memoir.  One that I imagine took a lot of blood, sweat and tears.  Very worthy, although at times hard to read.

About Minrose Gwin

Minrose Gwin is the author of The Queen of Palmyra. She has written three scholarly books, coedited The Literature of the American South, and teaches contemporary fiction at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill.

Minrose’s Tour Stops

Thursday, July 7th: My Reading Room

Wednesday, July 13th: Reviews By Lola

Thursday, July 14th: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass, Books, and Brainstorms

Monday, July 18th: Knowing the Difference

Tuesday, July 19th: Lit Endeavors

Wednesday, July 20th: Cozy Little House

Tuesday, July 26th: Good Girl Gone Redneck

Wednesday, July 27th: Lisa’s Yarns

Thursday, July 28th: Natty Michelle

Thursday, August 4th: she reads and reads

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review.

Book Review: The Long Journey Home

The Long Journey Home: A Memoir

Margaret Robison

Spiegel & Grau

400 pages

The Long Journey Home begins during Margaret Robison’s childhood in Cairo, Georgia.  Born in the 1930s, Cairo seems to be an idyllic childhood setting.  Lush pecan trees and other foliage pepper Robison’s prose, but something more sinister lurks in the background.  Robison’s mother, for one, is a cold, frigid woman who has trouble showing her love to her children.  Robison is especially troubled when, as a young teenager, she overhears her mother telling her father that she is not sure whether she can live with Robison being a lesbian, something that she has begun to suspect.  This is only one example of the seclusion Robison felt during her early years, and it only carried on to adulthood.

While Robison was away studying at college, she met her future husband, John Robison.  John was studying to become a minister, and at first he seemed like a clean cut gentleman.  Robison quickly discovered that all was not as it seemed; John turned out to be an alcoholic who abused Robison during his alcohol fueled rages.  Robison made a few attempts to leave the relationship, both before and during her marriage, but always ended up returning to John.

Robison and John both eventually spiraled downward into clinical depression and even psychosis.  The extent of John’s mental illness was impossible to gauge, as the reader only knows what Robison herself remembers from the time, but Robison herself is quick to admit to her own mental illness. While she attempted to assuage her demons with painting and writing, there were times when she was completely debilitated by her illness.

Here’s where it gets interesting; both Robison and her husband were treated by the complete whack job Dr Turcotte.  For those of you familiar with Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running with Scissors, you will recognize Dr Turcotte as the loony Dr Finch.  Robison spent years under the care of Dr Turcotte, spending time in and out of mental hospitals, as well as the hotel that Turcotte used to treat his patients.  Eventually, years later, after Turcotte had had a lasting impact on her family, Robison realized the control he was exercising over her and she severed all ties with him.  By then, the ramifications had already become apparent.

Robison has two sons, John Elder and Augusten Burroughs, referred to in the book by his birth name Christopher.  Although there had always been abuse in the marriage between Robison and her husband, John Elder was out of the house by the time the marriage imploded and Robison started her downward spiral into mental illness.  Chris was largely affected by the environment during his teenage years, and Turcotte played a large part of in that.

Given the notoriety of Running with Scissors, I was surprised that Robison didn’t focus more on the decisions she made at that time and, more importantly, the impact it had on Chris.  In my opinion, she completely glossed over her parental decision making at that time, as well as her relationship with Chris.  There were a few instances where she attempted to discount certain allegations that her son had made in his book, but they were very scattered.

As soon as I finished The Long Journey Home, I immediately reread Running with Scissors.  It had been a few years since I read it, and I wanted to compare the two memoirs. Burroughs had quite a bit to say about his mother and I was surprised that she hadn’t gone more in depth on the way she was portrayed in his book.

The two memoirs are completely different in tone and depth.  Robison’s memoir spans her entire life and was very serious.  It also was not completely linear, with her jumping back and forth at some points.  Burroughs’ memoir, on the other hand, is more comedic, being darkly humorous.  I was surprised that, while Burroughs was hit with a lawsuit by the Turcotte family due to the sensitive nature of his book, as well as their claims of false allegations and embellishments despite using fake names for the family members, Robison used their real names.  And her account of Turcotte and his family was pretty much just as bad as that of Burroughs. Whether there will be any ramifications of that, we have yet to see.

Overall, while I expected The Long Journey Home to shed more light on Robison’s relationship with her famous son, I still found the insight into her creative outlets and her mental illness to be quite fascinating.

About Margaret Robison

Margaret Robison is an artist and the author of four books of poetry. She lives in Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts.

Learn more about Margaret at her website, www.margaretrobison.com.


Margaret Robison’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, June 1st:  Well Read Wife

Thursday, June 2nd:  The Girl from the Ghetto

Monday, June 6th:  Books Like Breathing

Tuesday, June 7th:  Life in Review

Thursday, June 9th:  Silver and Grace

Monday, June 13th:  Reviews by Lola

Monday, June 20th:  Sara’s Organized Chaos

Friday, June 24th:  Chaotic Compendiums

Monday, June 27th:  The Book Lady’s Blog – guest post

Thursday, June 30th:  Rundpinne

Thursday, July 7th:  SMS Book Reviews

Friday, July 8th:  Colloquium

Friday, July 15th:  Thoughts of Joy

Book Review: Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me

Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me

by Chelsea’s family, friends and other victims and Chelsea Handler

Grand Central Publishing

304 pages

I should probably preface this review by explaining that I love Chelsea Handler.  I have read her other three books and even had the opportunity to meet her at a book signing for Are You There Vodka, It’s Me Chelsea.  Somehow it had escaped my notice that she had a fourth book coming out.  I was on my way to work a few weeks ago when I happened to catch Ryan Seacrest interviewing Chelsea as I was flipping through radio stations.  I learned this book was being published that very day, so as soon as my shift was over, I ran to Borders and snagged a copy.

The format of this book is different from that of Handler’s previous books; instead of being written by Chelsea, each chapter is written by a different family member or friend.  As implied  by the title of the book, it is a collection of Chelsea’s antics as recounted by those who know her.

My favorite story had to be the one written by Heather McDonald.

Heather McDonald

Heather is also a comedian and is a regular contributor on Chelsea Lately. Her story is actually mentioned in Chelsea’s previous book Chelsea Chelsea, Bang Bang but in Lies Chelsea Handler Told Me it is told from Heather’s perspective.  The lie, or prank if you will, begins when Chelsea goes to Heather and informs her that Lifetime has asked her to star in a movie about the Challenger explosion.  She is to play the part of the daughter of one of the dead astronauts, and she informs Heather that the script has not yet been written and Lifetime is actually asking for writers from Chelsea’s show to submit their own test scripts.  The person who gets the job will get a hefty salary, so Heather’s interest is piqued.  Chelsea then goes on to tell her that the movie is called The Sky is Crying and is actually meant to be a comedy.  Yes, you read that right–a comedy about the Challenger explosion.  Justin Timberlake is in talks to play Chelsea’s husband in the movie and one of the main plot points is that Chelsea’s mother continues to talk to her and give her advice from heaven.

Heather decides to go for it, so she has to put everything aside and put together a script to submit to Lifetime.  She finally gets a Sunday to herself in order to write, but she is forced to miss a pool party at the Kardashian home.  She is obviously bummed at missing the party, but she is able to make headway on her script. All is, unfortunately, for naught.  Chelsea gleefully tells Heather that she made the entire thing up, and there is no movie.

Overall, this was typical fare for Chelsea.  If you like her show and/or her other books, you’ll get a kick out of it.

Other Reviews:

None that I found.

I purchased this book from Borders.

Book Review: Escape

Escape

Carolyn Jessop

Broadway

448 pages

I admit it; I am hopelessly addicted to TLC’s TV show Sister Wives.  For those of you in the dark, it is a reality show based on a man named Kody Brown and his four wives, not to mention countless children.  Not having much experience with the polygamist lifestyle, I was surprised to see how normal and seemingly logical the lifestyle is.  The idea of having “sister wives” actually makes sense when watching the show, so reading this memoir was a shock to my system!

Carolyn Jessop married her husband, Merril Jessop, straight after high school after being coerced by her parents and other members of the FDLS church.  Merrill was over twice her age, and Carolyn had absolutely no interest in marrying him.  However, she had grown up in the church and believed that she had no choice but to enter into this mandated marriage to a man that already had three wives and numerous children.

Carolyn spent many years being stifled in a loveless marriage.  Merril allowed

Merril Jessop and six of his wives

her to continue in her schooling, but he was also a very possessive and controlling husband who cared little about what any of his wives wanted.  Carolyn risked her life to bear eight children, one of which had severe health issues.  Because of her lifestyle, Carolyn had to fight to get her son the healthcare he desperately needed.  Unbelievably, the police officers in her area were all members of the FDLS, so she wasn’t even able to call an ambulance for her son unless her husband consented.

Carolyn had hoped to escape her lifestyle for years, but was hindered by the health issues of her son, not to mention the danger involved.  She was eventually able to flee one night when Merril was out of town, but the FDLS was on her trail almost the second she left.  And although she was able to escape,, her older children were used to the lifestyle they had grown up in, and were not happy that they were forced to leave the only family they had ever known.

I was shocked by the behavior exhibited in Escape by Merril and other members of the church.  The FDLS is portrayed as a dangerous cult, which is the opposite of what we see on Sister Wives.  I tend to believe that Escape is probably a more accurate portrayal of the FDLS church as it was operated under Warren Jeffs.  Kody Brown and his wives seem to be secretive about their religion, so there are a lot of questions surrounding their beliefs and how closely they follow the FDLS doctrines.

I guess you could say Escape brought up a lot of questions for me, and now I am even more curious about the FDLS faith.

Other Reviews:

S Krishna’s Books

Maw Books Blog

I purchased this book for my Kindle.

Book Review: Her Last Death

Her Last Death

Susanna Sonnenberg

Scribner

288 pages

Susanna Sonnenberg is a seemingly typical married mother of two young sons when she gets a horrible phone call.  Her mother has been in a terrible accident and is likely to die.  Susanna needs to get on a plane immediately to try and make it to her bedside.  Except . . . Sonnenberg does not want to go.  She has washed her hands of her mother and can’t bear to be pulled back into her mother’s vortex.  Sounds cold hearted, until Sonnenberg fills the reader in on the tumultuous relationship she has had with her mother.

Sonnenberg grew up with a single mother as well as her younger sister, Penelope.  Her childhood was anything but normal.  Her mother had no qualms about doing cocaine in front of her daughters and often brought strange men in the home and had sex with them while the girls were in the next room.  This behavior continues on for years, with Sonnenberg’s mother “christening” Sonnenberg’s dorm room with her young boyfriend while her daughter was at orientation.

Not only was I horrified at the behavior Sonneberg’s mother displayed, but I eventually got a bit bored too.  It seemed like the same story over and over again, with not much resolution.  I don’t generally shy away from abundant references to sex and drugs, but it just got to be too much for me.  It reminded me of an amateur retelling of Jeanette Walls’ Glass Castle which, coincidentally, I loved.  Ditto for Running with Scissors, by Augusten Burroughs.  If you are looking for a great memoir about a sordid childhood, go with one of those two and skip Her Last Death.

Other Reviews:

The Book Lady’s Blog

My Round File

I purchased this book from Borders.

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