Thursday Reviews: Stiff by Mary Roach; The Dark Half by Stephen King November 8, 2012Posted by Jim Winter in Books.
Tags: Mary Roach, Stephen King, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, The Dark Half
Dead people probably save more lives than all the wonder drugs ever created. Mary Roach (Packing for Mars, Bonk) illustrates this by describing her experience watching a group of plastic surgeons practice facelifts on donated severed heads. That’s right. You, too, can donate your corpse to science and became a training tool for surgeons. As with her other tomes about sex and space travel, Roach looks at anatomy cadavers, organ donation, the sordid history of anatomy study before modern times, and even an earth-friendly means of sending your loved ones off with a bemusement that often suggests she might have bitten off more than she can chew.
This book, more than Bonk, which looked at how sex is studied by science, is not for the squeamish. She describes in detail the harvest of a donor’s organs after a car accident, learns how corpses determine what happens in plane crashes, and even visits an open-air lab that studies decomposition. Perhaps the strangest chapter was on a new technique from Sweden where your mortal remains can be freeze-dried and turned into compost that is placed under a tree planted in your memory. You become part of the tree. No formaldehyde. No pricey coffin. No big stone with something pithy like “Cousin Fred 1975-2012 We told him not to try this at home, but he wouldn’t listen.” Controversial? Yes, but so was cremation, which is as normal means of exiting the world as burial has been for thousands of years.
Roach says she writes about what interests her. That said, she also doesn’t hide the fact that her books sometimes weird her out. After all, this was a woman who talked her husband into having sex in an MRI tube. For science, of course. That scene from Bonk was almost as titillating as a prostate exam. But it’s always funny knowing that Roach is squirming as she witnesses what she writes about more than you are reading it.
Speaking of dead people…
Thad Beaumont wrote a highly regarded novel that was nominated for a prestigious literary award. Then he couldn’t write. Not until he broke out the Berol No. 2 pencils and started writing long-hand as George Stark, a self-described “high tone sonofabitch.” That’s the fiction. So when Beaumont is exposed, he has a mock burial of “George Stark” in People, complete with tombstone.
Only George Stark doesn’t want to be dead. Thad’s pen name has become flesh and blood, going on a murderous rampage against those who “killed” him. And he wants something from Thad: His ability to write. Because George is dying. Again.
Yeah, weird. What were you expecting from King? Misery? Oh, wait…
King once said he had a trilogy about the effects of writing on the novelist. Misery was about when fans intrude on the author. Secret Window, a novella from Four Past Midnight, shows the author self-destructing. The Dark Half is an allegory about when the author cannot separate himself from his fiction. The premise actually has to do with an absorbed aborted twin, but George Stark has an elaborate fiction to him that Beaumont increasingly realizes is himself.
The Dark Half is also the first appearance of Castle County Sheriff Alan Pangborn. Up until this story, he was simply the guy who took over from George Bannerman after Cujo mauled him to death. A rabid dog, The Dark Tower Series aside, does not a supernatural incident make. It happened in Derry. The Tommyknockers happened in Haven. So Alan’s basically been handling drunk drivers and traffic tickets since then.