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My Life With Corpses

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We may flatter ourselves that we think therefore we are, but in reality our lives are much more than the sum of our thoughts. Our deeds and others’ perceptions of us can be just as important in shaping the totality of who we are.

Such is the theme, anyways, of Wylene Dunbar’s My Life with Corpses. S. Oscar, or Oz (she’s from Kansas), is the only non-corpse in her immediate family. Her mother was a corpse when she was conceived (how she does not say) and her father was a corpse in the making. Her older sister was also a corpse, having succumbed to “brain fever.” This makes for an odd sort of childhood – one devoid of affection or emotion, except for that to be had from animals. But even corpses are not immune to the ravages of time. One day her family rapidly decomposes, and she is forced into the emotional, messy, world of a living foster family. She’s rescued by a kindly neighbor who sends her to college where she studies philosophy and soon learns that academia, and the world in general, is filled with corpses.

There are corpses of all manner in this book and it’s difficult to keep them all straight. There are corpses who died in accidents or from medical illnesses. There are corpses who died when they lost their dreams. There are corpses who died by turning too far inward, disappearing into their minds as it were. There are corpses who died from emotional isolation. And there are corpses who were sucked into death by the corpses around them.

The really dead and the metaphorically dead walk around with equal aplomb. The parents are a prime example – are they really dead or just emotionally dead? Most often it seems the latter. They both live lives of disappointed expectations and at one point they join a fundamentalist church looking for salvation. But if the dead have no souls, which the narrator goes to great lengths to make clear early in the story, why would they be worried about salvation?

In the end, this is no zombie story, but a philosophical reflection of the many ways we can die without dying. It could just as easily be titled, My Life with Depressives. But that wouldn’t be as catchy.

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