Over the years, I've owned several Mary Roach books, but I've never read them. This week, I finally got around to plowing through Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers. People accuse Roach's books of being formulaic. One Word Title. Semi-Colon. An Odyssey Through Something Weird. In Which the Author Relates a Lot of Facts. And Cracks a Lot of Jokes. Titter. Titter. At first, I was dazzled. I mean, this book opens in a room with pans in which human heads are sitting. Impressive! And there are all kinds of strange and dismembered things along the way, as Roach undertakes to answer the question: What happens to dead human bodies, anyway? A lot, apparently. But even though Roach is a significant presence in the book, she is sort of like a shadow figure. I mean, you never really get why she's standing there watching a transplant surgeon pry a still-beating heart from a woman's brain-dead body. I suppose if you don't want your author in your story soup, that works just fine for you. But if you're going to show me a still beating heart, I think you should get me to understand why I should care. And I guess I know that I do, but I don't know why, and Roach never says if she does, or if she does, why. The closest thing to an explanation that I happened across is that her father was sixty-five when she was born. So maybe that explains her fascination with bodies and death. Who knows?
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