IN THE LAND OF LONG FINGERNAILS by Charles Wilkins

IN THE LAND OF LONG FINGERNAILS

A Gravedigger in the Age of Aquarius

KIRKUS REVIEW

An often funny, yucky examination of how the dead can affect our lives.

For a few months in 1969, Wilkins worked in Toronto digging graves for Willowlawn Everlasting Inc. The experience had a profound effect on the young man. Working in a graveyard with horse manure, religious fanatics and dead bodies while periodically whacked out on marijuana is bound to leave a lasting impression. The book’s title—which refers to the fact that fingernails may continue to grow after death—is indicative of the author’s jaunty attitude toward the subject. But for Wilkins, death wasn’t even the primary aspect of the job; it was more about the oddness of his fellow gravediggers, the questionable business practices of the Willowlawn brain trust and the pervasive sense of greed and cynicism that pervaded the industry. “[U]nder the customary Monday morning cloud of laziness, pettiness, halitosis, chaos, and inertia,” writes the author, “three of four other lowly employees trudge off with the enthusiasm of ripening stiffs to begin their temporary spiritless bottom-feeding bonehead jobs, their only consolation being that, even in 90 degrees of heat, work in the cemetery is relatively easy and that if they’re resourceful they can sleep two or three hours a day under the honeysuckles out by the paupers’ graves.” Considering that there are only a handful of books that deal with this aspect of death, fans of the macabre should appreciate this oddball memoir. However, because of the repetitive nature of the job, readers not interested in the picayune machinations of the cemetery world might find themselves wishing for a Stephen King novel.

A mostly insightful slice of life and death, but not on the level of Mary Roach’s Stiff (2003).

Pub Date: July 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-1-60239-709-5
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2009




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