Normally, a person dies at the conclusion of the book.
End of life usually equals end of story.
But, for author Mary Roach (Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex), death is just the beginning.
Her book Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, released in 2003, takes kicking the bucket to a whole new level. In it, she reveals that our assumptions, that most corpses’ lives stop six feet under, are dead wrong.
It is a book comparable to no other I’ve read. Of course, I could compare it to those long-winded, medical jargon-crammed essays in doctor’s journals which detail the various uses of cadavers in their diverse states. But those essays are as pale as death when placed beside Roach’s colorful words and vibrant humor.
Hailed as “Best Book of 2003” by Entertainment Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Seattle Times, and by NPR’s “Science Friday,” this book, it seems, is being eaten up by everyone, even when its main characters seem destined to be food for worms.
Each chapter in Stiff is a story in itself. Read it in any order you like, the effect is the same - laugh-out-loud science. Who knew that dead people could be so funny - unless we’re talking about the stiff-legged, flesh eating living dead?
But there is nothing alive about these cadavers. Nothing, except how the living use them.
Roach, in her “lively” discussion of the dead, calls to attention the many uses of current and past daisy pushers. When her first chapter openly conversed about the “talking heads” used by medical students to practice surgery on, I wondered whether I should be horrified or amused. Luckily, the latter won.
Then, in the following chapter, when she discussed the history of cadavers, I again asked myself whether I should scream or laugh.