A memoir in the form of a strange pilgrimage, filled with apocalyptic images, through the present-day South to the place in Georgia where hundreds of corpses were found rotting outside a crematory.
The “cremains” sent out by Tri-State Crematory to bereaved families were, it seems, largely ground concrete. Poet Hendricks (Thaumatrope, 2007, etc.), whose father had died more than a decade earlier, was on a quest to find out whether his father’s body was one of those discarded corpses. In 1997, his body had been disinterred from its Georgia grave since his widow wanted him cremated so that his ashes could later be dispersed with hers in the mountains. Five years after the disinterment, Hendricks sought to discover what became of his father’s body and to understand how this mass desecration could have occurred. His journey through the South was nightmarish: religious bigotry, environmental ruin, slavery and its aftermath of racial prejudice, a history of Native American genocide dating back to the days of Hernando de Soto’s exploitation. What was going on inside Hendrick’s head was no picnic either. He ruminates on his unhappy childhood with a father he found hard to love and his growing up in the South, where he did not fit in. At journey’s end, the author does see confirmation that his father’s body has been identified. However, as for why the crematory owner had scattered corpses through the woods and pond behind his facility, no answer is ever forthcoming.
A tough journey. For Hendricks, the discovery that counts is that the conjuring of his father’s presence during his bleak and lonely pilgrimage has brought him to realize that perhaps he can love him again after all.