October 23, 2016

Book Review : Does This Mean You'll See Me Naked by Robert Webster

With Halloween just around the corner, there's no better time to dive into something a little dark. 

I just finished Does This Mean You'll See Me Naked?: Field Notes from a Funeral Director by Robert Webster. I found it to be an interesting read. Quick and easy. I can't say I would recommend it for everyone but if you don't recoil at the thought of reading a number of random anecdotes about dead bodies and a bit about the history of the Death Industry, you just might like it. 

My only qualm with the book would be the use of private information concerning his prior "cases" and either issues he faced (such as the conundrum posed by transporting, embalming, and burying a 660lb woman) or unusual requests (like being buried in the front seat of a truck), the fact of the matter is that these were actual people. Though they're (obviously) dead and gone, their family and friends almost certainly are not, so I found myself conflicted throughout the early chapters of the book. Though it has a generally appropriate mood, the book occasionally veers off into dark humor. Given the sensitive subject matter, some of it was actually funny, but some of it fell flat which meant it came off as being a bit tacky. It was mostly a matter of detail and word choice, such as including the fact that he held the obese woman's corpse open with duct tape and, while locating the femoral artery, was "nearly up to (his) elbow in fatty tissue". This paints quite a vivid picture for the reader. Unfortunately, it paints the same crude image for the deceased's family who chose to use his funeral home.

On the flip side, it offered a bit of insight into everyday problems and solutions those in the Death Industry face (in both the past and present). I suppose when processing dead bodies is your day job, a sense of reverence for the dead probably fades through the years. This may account for the handful of crass comments sprinkled throughout the earlier chapters (which I should note, were mildly annoying but not enough to make me put it down). 

The middle of the book took a weird turn into the history of the Death Industry which I felt was a bit awkwardly placed. Some of it, such as the history of embalming, I already knew (don't ask me why) but a fair amount was new to me. Also, I appreciated that there was a decent amount of material addressing the practical application of insiders' knowledge concerning planning funerals as well as the unnecessary bells and whistles they'll inevitably try to sell you on. Let's be honest ... all you really need is a big wooden box. Unless you plan on being cremated, in which case, all you need is a little wooden box. 
Overall, I'm glad I read it. I feel like I learned a thing or two. It moved along at a surprisingly quick pace so I found it to be generally enjoyable, and what I would consider some light reading material before bed. Definitely not for squeamish readers but if you've ever found yourself wondering about death, or mortuary science, it might be worth a read.   

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