Title: Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory
Author: Caitlin Doughty
Release Date: September 15, 2014
Publisher: W.W. Northon & Co.
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Caitlin Doughty was obsessed with death from a young age, so it almost seemed natural that she would seek out a job at a mortuary. In charge of the crematory, Caitlin learns more than she ever wanted to about dead people and the bodies they leave behind, and has some profound views on our treatment of the dead and how it should change.
Caitlin Doughty addresses a tough, if necessary, topic in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory—our treatment of our dead. Full of insight, wit, and horrifically hilarious stories, this is a fascinating memoir about coming of age with dead people, and the life lessons that teaches.
I am not a person who is fascinated by dead bodies. I don’t really have any preoccupation with death, except that I try not to think about it because it scares me a bit. However, when I came across Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory, I was immediately intrigued. I do get grossed out pretty easily, but on the other had, it seemed as though Doughty might have some fascinating insight on the death business, so I thought this unconventional memoir was worth giving a try.
And indeed, I’m glad I gave Smoke Gets in Your Eyes a chance. Doughty writes in a humorous, self-deprecating tone that makes this difficult (and often gross) subject approachable. Yes, it has its icky parts, but the way she writes about them make it fascinating rather than stomach turning. There’s so much here on the decomposition of bodies, the treatment of the dead, the practices of a mortuary; these aren’t subject that are normally discussed in polite company. Yet Doughty has a great way of being able to joke about it and discuss the subject at length with humor but without being disrespectful. It’s a perfect balance that Doughty makes seem effortless, but is very difficult to do.
But Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is more than just stories and anecdotes. Doughty laments the disrespectful treatment of the dead in our culture. Dying is a natural thing. It’s not beautiful, and Doughty doesn’t try to claim it is, but there are better ways we can treat our dead. Doughty ventures into stories about funerary practices from around the world, and discusses her ideal funeral and what kind of approach she’d like the American public to start adopting towards the dead. She speaks from a place of knowledge, and what she has to say is compelling and fascinating. If you enjoy memoirs and learning about bizarre things while you’re reading (and don’t have an overly sensitive stomach), then this is a book you should definitely seek out.