Tuesday, September 24, 2013

A Long Day at the End of the World by Brent Hendricks

In February 2002, hundreds of decayed, abandoned bodies were discovered at the Tri-State Crematory in rural Georgia. It was the largest mass desecration in modern American history. The perpetrator - a well-respected family man and former hometown football star - had managed to conceal the horror for five years.

Among the bodies was that of Brent Hendricks's father. To address the psychic turmoil caused by this discovery, Hendricks embarks on a pilgrimage across the disturbed landscape of the Deep South to the crematory site. In [this book], he reveals the gruesome and bizarre details of the desecration and confronts his fraught relationship with his father - wrestling with the grief surrounding his death as well as the uncanniness of his startling resurrection.

This is one of those little finds across the library desk. A patron returned the book and of course wanted to tell me about it. I thought it sounded like the sort of thing my husband would be interested in (he reads mysteries, true-crime, forensic stuff), so I checked it out and took it home. He read it in no time flat (maybe 48 hours?) and kept telling me about little things here and there. Since it's such a small book, I decided to pick it up myself.

It's interesting, I'll give him (and my patron) that. My biggest problem was that I wanted to know a lot more about Brent Marsh, the man responsible for the 339 bodies that were found on the crematory grounds, left in all sorts of disarray and states of decay. But since Hendricks wrote the book about his journey to see his father's last "resting" place, the story of Marsh is doled out rather sparingly. Granted, Hendricks makes it clear that there's not a lot to know about Marsh; he never gave a reason for his failure to perform his duties. He didn't do it to make money, as the savings per body was rather paltry. Theories run the gamut from laziness to a sort of overworked-snowball-type thing, where he got behind on his crematory duties and started to dump a body here, a body there, perhaps planning to catch up later, but of course, never able to get the upper hand on the situation. And much like an office worker who gets behind on paperwork, then starts hiding it to hide the fact that he/she is behind, the theory goes that Marsh dumped more and more bodies.

I'd be very interested in reading more about one theory Hendricks talks about, that of hoarding. One psychologist proposed that Marsh was, in essence, exhibiting hoarding tendencies with his acres of bodies. And while it sounds plausible, one has to wonder why he would only hoard a portion of the bodies he received for cremation; he still performed over 600 some cremations during the 5 years or so that this was going on. Why keep some but not others? And if one is hoarding bodies, why? The only people I've ever read about keeping bodies as such have all been serial murderers. These people were already dead when Marsh received them.

Perhaps the best theory is that Brent Marsh had to go into the family business, but it was about the last thing he wanted to do. He simply did not want the job. And maybe that's why he did what he did - he just hated his job. We'll never know, and the reader definitely doesn't learn much more from this book. Hendricks talks mostly about his journey across the South, about his childhood, about the reason his father came to "rest" at Tri-State, and how biblical it all is to him, the son. His father was displaced from his original home by a flood (one to create a lake and dam), and after he died, he was buried in the ground. Hendricks's mother, however, had a growing phobia regarding burial, and after some years, had her husband exhumed so that she could have him cremated. I know - how ironic that he should end up at Tri-State, suffering a fate, one would imagine, much worse than mere burial.

As I said, it's an interesting subject. And while I would recommend the book merely for that reason, be prepared - the author gets extremely philosophical, and tends to repeat himself. It does make me wonder if anyone wrote anything on just the Tri-State Crematory desecration itself. Time to do some digging, if you'll pardon the pun!

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Potty Mouth at the Table by Laurie Notaro

Pinterest. Foodies. Anne Frank's underwear. New York Times bestselling author Laurie Notaro - rightfully hailed as "the funniest writer in the solar system" (The Miami Herald) - spares nothing and no one, least of all herself, in this uproarious new collection of essays on rudeness. With the sardonic, self-deprecating wit that makes us all feel a little better about ourselves for identifying with her, Laurie explores her recent misadventures and explains why it's not her who is nuts, it's them (and okay, sometimes it's her too).

Whether confessing that her obsession with buying fabric has reached junior hoarder status or mistaking a friend's heinous tattoo as temporary, Laurie puts her unique spin - sometimes bizarre, always entertaining - on the many perils of modern living in a mannerless society. From shuddering at the graphic Harry Potter erotica conjured up as a writer's group to lamenting the sudden ubiquity of quinoa ("It looks like larvae no matter how you cook it"), [this book] is whip-smart, unpredictable, and hilarious. In other words, irresistibly Laurie.

I've been a fan of Notaro's for some time now, so when I noticed that our library system had picked up her latest work, I rejoiced. Then I got it home, and really rejoiced - this book is funny. I usually relate to most of what she's saying, but this one had me laughing out loud, a very good thing.

From getting dissed by the Antiques Roadshow people to her horrific encounter with the world's worst-smelling cab, this book is just awesome.Her piece on why she hates the yoga people had me practically in tears (how many dead bodies can one author find?), as well as why she's over foodies, the things she's sick-to-death-of on Pinterest, and the six things she never wants to hear in the pharmacy line again (I'm very much with her on those). I really enjoyed her chapter "Fabric Obsession"; I don't have one that causes me to buy any, but I can't walk into a fabric store and not touch just about everything that's displayed. Especially if it has some sort of texture to it. It's weird, I know. And sadly, not always limited to fabric stores.

The book really does run the gamut from the hysterical to the touching. The titular chapter is a witty piece about her literary duel with a "serious" author, as well as trying to stomach sessions such as those devoted to erotic fan fiction. (totally with her on this one - I do NOT want to read about any of my fave fictional characters doing the nasty - not unless those scenes are written by the author him/herself. Eww...) The final chapter, "Rewinding", takes a serious turn as Laurie and her circle confront one of life's hardest lessons - the potentially fatal illness of a friend. It's a very moving look at how this wise-cracking writer helps a friend who is diagnosed with a brain tumor, how she copes with her fears while being strong for her friend. And how life changes, but not always in a bad way. I was very surprised to see this chapter, but I think it also shows her growth as an author.

Highly recommended.

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea from Siobhan Dowd)

This is one of the titles that was selected for the local middle school system's Battle of the Books. I've wanted to pick it up for a while, as the cover is very intriguing, and it says something about being a horror novel. That surprised me, as I usually think of the list of books as being serious writing; horror doesn't strike me as being the sort of genre that would be chosen.

After reading the book, I see how wrong I was. It's a powerful book, disguised as a young boy being haunted/terrorized by a mythical creature. Conor O'Malley has nightmares, horrible nightmares. When a monster shows up one night at seven minutes past midnight, Conor isn't surprised. He's also not scared; he explains to the monster (a sort of enormous evil tree-man) that he's seen worse. And he has...

Conor's mom has cancer. She's undergoing treatment yet again, as the previous rounds of chemo don't seem to have worked. His maternal grandmother is a cold fish, someone who doesn't understand the young boy and doesn't seem to want to. His father lives in America with his new family (I'm doing this a couple months after I read the book, so bear with me - I think Conor lives in the U.K.) He really doesn't have any friends at school, so there's no one for him to turn to, no one to talk with, about his mom's illness. No one except the monster who shows up just after midnight.

It is mature subject matter, which has some questioning if kids/teens should read it. Having lost my own mother recently to cancer, I think if the reader has gone through the same thing, then yes, they should read it. It's powerful, this idea of what is true and what is not, that things are not always as they appear to be, and that the best lies we tell are the ones we tell ourselves.

And I would recommend having a box of tissues handy.