In the follow-up to her well-received debut, Smoke Gets in your Eyes (2014), a mortician delivers a wide-eyed report on burial customs across the world.
At the unique funeral parlor she owns and operates in Southern California, Doughty adopts a “younger, progressive” approach to burial protocol. Unwilling to accept the way that the necessity of “deathcare” has evolved into such a commercialized and bureaucratic industry, the inquisitive undertaker presents her globe-trotting experiences exploring and appreciating the eccentric and widely diverse death rituals across international cultures. In offering opposing perspectives that dignify, celebrate, and decorate the body in its expired state, Doughty hopes to do her part in spurring a reform of the funeral industry and to help change the squeamishness of Western attitudes toward death and the sanctity of the sacred burial. Her fascinating tour of rituals contains liturgies that readers will surely observe as rare, macabre, unbelievable, ancient, and precious—sometimes simultaneously. Among them: a Central American body thief validates why he confiscated his grandmother’s body from a hospital; a cremation via community open-air pyre in Colorado (the only one of its kind in America), complete with flute and didgeridoo accompaniment; mummification restorations in Indonesia; and the glass encasement coffins of Barcelona: “Glass means transparency, unclouded confrontation with the brutal reality of death. Glass also means a solid barrier. It allows you to come close but never quite make contact.” In Japan, where corpses were once perceived to be impure, now they are revered as beloved and their memorialization has been fully ritualized with the aid of technology and innovation. Green, eco-friendly “human composting” methods also have their place in the author’s entertaining and thought-provoking narrative. Grimly enhanced by the artwork of Blair, these observances demonstrate how to diminish the stigma associated with death, burial, and eternal remembrance.
Death gets the last word in this affably written, meticulously researched study of funerary customs.