A mind-boggling, sometimes stomach-churning glimpse of a profession that is far more demanding than TV’s glamorized version...

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TEASING SECRETS FROM THE DEAD

MY INVESTIGATIONS AT AMERICA’S MOST INFAMOUS CRIME SCENES

A “bone doctor’s” gritty, fascinating account of her challenging career analyzing skeletal remains to discover how people died, who they were, and even what they looked like.

Craig, the state forensic anthropologist for Kentucky since 1994, has grisly stories to tell that go way beyond her state’s borders. While a graduate student at the University of Tennessee—site of the infamous Body Farm, where outdoor decomposition of bodies is studied—she was sent to Waco, Texas, to help in the investigation into the disaster at the Branch Davidian compound. Her work there revealed that some members of the cult, including infants and the group’s leader, David Koresh, had been killed not by fire but by a point-blank shot to the head. After the Oklahoma City bombing, she was called in by the FBI to help identify a dismembered leg that had become a crucial part of Timothy McVeigh’s defense strategy, and after the destruction of the World Trade Center, she spent months in New York’s emergency morgue as a volunteer for the Disaster Mortuary Operational Response Team. However, it’s her cases as Kentucky’s “Boondock Bone Doc” that reveal the most about how a forensic anthropologist works in the field. In the backwoods, on the sides of mountain, on the banks of rivers, Craig recovers body parts and pieces together three-dimensional pictures that tell stories of violent deaths. Her images are vivid and homely: cleaning a skeleton is “something like deboning a rotten chicken, though of course on a much larger scale”; decomposed tissue resembles “chocolate pudding into which someone has stirred a few cups of chunky vomit,” and what she has to say about the huge number of maggots she encounters in corpses is not for the squeamish. Throughout, though, what stands out is Craig’s humanity. While the scientist focuses on the gruesome task at hand, she never forgets that what she’s dealing with was once a living human being. An unexpected bonus is the author’s account of her training for and work as a medical illustrator, her career before going back to school in her mid-40s to become a forensic anthropologist.

A mind-boggling, sometimes stomach-churning glimpse of a profession that is far more demanding than TV’s glamorized version of it.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2004

ISBN: 1-4000-4922-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

DAD'S MAYBE BOOK

Ruminations and reminiscences of an author—now in his 70s—about fatherhood, writing, and death.

O’Brien (July, July, 2002, etc.), who achieved considerable literary fame with both Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), returns with an eclectic assembly of pieces that grow increasingly valedictory as the idea of mortality creeps in. (The title comes from the author’s uncertainty about his ability to assemble these pieces in a single volume.) He begins and ends with a letter: The initial one is to his first son (from 2003); the terminal one, to his two sons, both of whom are now teens (the present). Throughout the book, there are a number of recurring sections: “Home School” (lessons for his sons to accomplish), “The Magic Show” (about his long interest in magic), and “Pride” (about his feelings for his sons’ accomplishments). O’Brien also writes often about his own father. One literary figure emerges as almost a member of the family: Ernest Hemingway. The author loves Hemingway’s work (except when he doesn’t) and often gives his sons some of Papa’s most celebrated stories to read and think and write about. Near the end is a kind of stand-alone essay about Hemingway’s writings about war and death, which O’Brien realizes is Hemingway’s real subject. Other celebrated literary figures pop up in the text, including Elizabeth Bishop, Andrew Marvell, George Orwell, and Flannery O’Connor. Although O’Brien’s strong anti-war feelings are prominent throughout, his principal interest is fatherhood—specifically, at becoming a father later in his life and realizing that he will miss so much of his sons’ lives. He includes touching and amusing stories about his toddler sons, about the sadness he felt when his older son became a teen and began to distance himself, and about his anguish when his sons failed at something.

A miscellany of paternal pride (and frustration) darkened by the author’s increasing realizations of his mortality.

Pub Date: Oct. 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-618-03970-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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