Stiff: The curious lives of human cadavers by Mary Roach

Sept. 9, 2014

I wanted to like Stiff. I wanted Mary Roach to be an entertaining writer. Alas, she is not.

She’s judgmental and annoying. She writes too much about too little. She goes on long, pointless tangents.

Most damning of all (for me, as a journalist), are incongruities between what she’s written as either the truth or a semblance of the truth and the truth I’ve read from more credible authors. Meaning, she’s lying or being lazy or a combination of the two.

Once the first hole is poked in Roach’s credibility, I have no faith that her work is not riddled with holes.

At this point, I should put some caveats in my review: I am not easily grossed out. I’m a little bit morbid. While I do not deal with dead bodies extensively, I deal with death and the grieving on a regular basis as a cops and courts reporter for a newspaper.

This appears to be an issue for some reviewers. I did not find the book to be particularly gross.

Show me the money
First, my biggest problem with the book. Roach writes a little bit about the history of the body market, but not that much. When it comes to the modern body market, she writes, a costs $500. Who knows how much it sells for.

That’s it.

One single reference.

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This is martin bonner

Reno’s got film: This is Martin Bonner

I may begrudge Santa Fe a lot of things: the lack of a Costco (marinated artichoke hearts by the three quarts), the over-all expensiveness, the lack of decent things offered on Craigslist and the subsequent over-pricing of thrift stores and ridiculous costs of things offered. Everyone seems to think torn-up couches are worth hundreds of dollars. Thrift stores, especially Good Will, think that coffee makers that cost $8 new at Walmart are worth $12-15 used.

That and the old white people. Going through Trader Joe’s is always some kind of terrible gauntlet, yet, I love Trader Joe’s, the wine, the tahini sauce, the pita bread. The gin.

All those gripes aside, Santa Fe has a pretty incredible movie scene, especially for a town so small. Hell, even for a large town. One movie theater is situated inside the university, another is a “United Artists” inside of a mall, yet a third was revamped and now owned by George R. R. Martin, although the screen is smaller than many in-home projections. And there’s another, one I have yet to go to, is the Center for Contemporary Arts.

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Three trips in space and time

Three Trips in Time and Space by Larry Niven & John Brunner & Jack Vance

“Three Trips in Time and Space” is three novellas of wildly disparate quality by three different sci-fi stalwarts, commissioned on the idea of instantaneous, economical travel.
Robert Silverberg commissions the three novellas, stories, from three different authors. He sends them the book’s foreword.
(Them are: Larry Niven with ‘Flash Crowd, John Brunner with ‘You’ll Take the High Road’ and Jack Vance with ‘Rumfuddle.’)

The Premise and the Challenge:
The jist of Silverberg’s foreword, his challenge to the authors is instantaneous, economical travel. His words:

“Suppose it were possible, technologically and economically, to transport oneself to any point on the earth’s surface in virtually instantaneous travel? What sort of society would develop where Arabia is an eye blink away from Brooklyn, where one can step from Calcutta to the Grand Canyon between two heartbeats? Let the author, if he can, visualize for us how such a transport system might work – but let him concern himself, primarily, with the effects it would have on the texture on quality of human life. (emphasis added)

There one has it. Instantaneous, economical travel.

The Quick Run Down
1. The first novella, ‘Flash Crowd’ by Larry Niven sets a very good tone. While it lacks in a denouement, it certainly hustles the plot along for most of the story. From a technology standpoint, both it and Brunner’s novella share a conceit of a form of teleportation.
2. The second novella, ‘You’ll Take the High Road’ by John Brunner neither hustles along nor is standable, most notable with its whiney narrator/main character.
3. The third novella, and the strongest by far, is ‘Rumfuddle’ by Jack Vance. Although it’s confusing for the first few pages, it quickly hits its stride and the strong-headed narrator is evened out by a strong plot, strong pacing, a great twist and a great technological concept that propels it far beyond the environs and implications of its two brother novellas.

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Anatonmy lesson

The Anatomy Lesson by Nina Siegal

The Anatomy lesson is a poorly-written and bloated novel, nothing but a slog of a let-down.
Its pedigree is promising: six years spent in Amsterdam, a former New York Times writer, rave reviews from fellow authors and an MFA. Pedigree, in this instance, has no claim on the quality of the novel, of the writing, of the novel’s coherence or anything else.
Whole sections of the book are nothing but useless bloat and should have been cut.

“Most excellent and ornate men of Amsterdam: Honorable Burgomaster Bicker, Amsterdam burghers, gentlemen of the Stadtholder’s court, magistrates, inspectors Collegii Medici, physicians, barber-surgeons, apothecaries, apprentices, and public visitors to our chamber, on behalf of the Amsterdam Surgeon’s Guild, it is my greatest honor to welcome you all to the Amsterdam theatrum anatomicum on this, the opening night of the winter festival 1632.”

That claptrap goes on and on and on. For 13 pages. Thirteen pages of pure, pointless claptrap.

The plot
The plot is, the lead up to Rembrandt painting The Anatomy Lesson. That’s it. So, really, there is no plot. There is no middle and there is no end. There is no conclusion to most of the story lines.
The publishers touts at least seven narrators, none of whom are given enough time to develop into characters. It is unclear at best, purely bad writing at worst, whom the narrators are speaking to, especially as the narration goes from first to third persons. Then the narration goes from past tense to present tense to past tense. Then one of the characters is flying over the city, trying to atone for his minor sins. Because that belongs in a historical fiction novel.

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Skinny bitch gets hitched

Skinny Bitch gets Hitched by Kim Barnouin

Sloppily and condescendingly written, “Skinny Bitch Gets Hitched” asks the reader to suspend the disbelief, not in aliens or artifacts or magic but rather, in how people act and how the world works.

Personally, I don’t understand the appeal of the “skinny bitch” moniker.

The “skinny bitch,” Clementine Cooper (Clem for short) is a vegan. And don’t forget it, because if you’re not a vegan, well, prepare to be preached at with flimsy arguments and pointless rhetoric.

So Clem, at an improbably young age, runs her own restaurant and is dating the millionaire-owner-chef of a steak house.

So, Barnouin (author) set up the tension for us in the structure. Lest ye be interested in people who make only moderate amounts of money, the aforementioned millionaire boyfriend is, well, a millionaire. Tapping into the shades of money without the sex, submission or anything even remotely fun.

The millionaire (who will propose to Clem, hence the title of the book) has a horrible, horrible mother whom he wants to reconcile with. He is, of course (please, start parading out the tropes so they may strut their stuff on the catwalk) blind to his own mother’s idiocy.

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Irish girls about town

Irish Girls About Town, an anthology

I figured, I should read more Irish authors and I figured, I should read more female Irish authors. So, I picked this book up, along with a few others, trying to fill a 4-for-3 quota. I read it all the way through.

(I adore short stories.)
These stories are utter rubbish.
Had they been written by men, the book and the authors would be excoriated for being misogynistic cretins obsessed with their own gender. As such, the book is filled with un-ironic slut-shaming, un-ironic figure-bashing, god-awful romance, some staying in an abusive relationship. Almost every single story is about or has a strong component of, why women need a man in their life.
Just one. And he’s the empowered one. He may screw around. She may not.

With that being written, here is a review of each story, in the order they appear:

(Click link to read the rest of the review):

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Ghosts of nagasaki

The Ghosts of Nagasaki by Daniel Clausen

Reviews aren’t done in a vacuum. This is especially true when a book has been out for a while and has been reviewed for a while.

Most of the reviewers make great hay of the surrealism, of the book, its conceit of a person’s personal spirits both existing and being visible by others who, likewise, have their own spirits. Or personal demons. Or, baggage, as many of the more knowledgeable characters point out to the main character, a former English teacher turned businessman.
This making of hay (the author, in his email to me asking if I’d be interested in reviewing the book, also made great hay) over the use of personal spirits, metaphors and an expanded consciousness (There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy) is ridiculous.
The book has spirits. Enough said. Suspend your disbelief. We do it for Shakespeare, I think we can do it for Clausen.
I don’t see anyone making hay over the dead king’s ghost (was it really the ghost or a demon sent to tempt Hamlet?) so I don’t see why a few spirits and a metaphysical island should send every reviewer into a tail-spin tissy.

The main character, he’s a poor broken boy from a broken home who makes his way in Japan.
Him being broken, and his broken home, follow him, literally and metaphorically, until the dénouement of the book.
It’s very well written, engaging, and rarely dull.

The problems
The Ghosts of Nagasaki is not without its own problems. First and foremost, a choice of typography. Every paragraph break has a space underneath it. No, the book isn’t double spaced, but the paragraphs are. Makes for a jarring read, especially when double spacing between paragraphs, or quadruple spacing, is meant to signify a certain level of break in the context of the read. Then, there’s breaks marked by asterisks.
The second problem comes from the plotting of the book itself. The orphan did get shown some love, later on in his orphan time, and is now haunted by his past.

(Click link to read the rest of the review):

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